NIAGARA FALLS – The Ontario Ministry of the Environment has asked public health officials to get involved in its investigation into coolant-system leaks at the three-year-old Gale Centre arena complex.
Kate Jordan, a spokeswoman for the ministry, tells Bullet News MOE officials have also requested documents from the city and plan to visit the arena as part of a probe she described as “ongoing.”
“Following recent media reports, the ministry is looking into allegations of glycol leaks at the city’s Gale Centre,” Jordan wrote in a email statement sent to Bullet News Thursday afternoon.
“The ministry has been speaking to the city to determine whether the alleged leak was to the natural environment or contained inside the arena. The ministry’s review is ongoing and it would be premature to speculate on any outcomes or possible next steps.”
When asked to clarify what steps the ministry has taken to date, Jordan said: “We’ve requested the city’s engineering report and will be reviewing it. We will also be inspecting the arena.”
Jordan continued: “We’ve also engaged the health unit in our review and will be sharing a copy of the city’s report with them.”
Bullet News was first to report Wednesday the Ministry of the Environment is looking into glycol leaks at the Gale Centre.
The latest developments come less than two weeks after city councillors received a report from city staff detailing the findings of a consulting firm brought in to troubleshoot problems at the centre.
According to the the staff report, “glycol” piping installed throughout the facility to provide heating, cooling and ice-surface refrigeration “is leaking into public spaces, corridors, utility rooms and mechanical spaces.”
The remedial work – which council has now approved – will include repairing and tightening joints on some 2,600 feet of heat-pump piping and 2,000 feet of heating-water piping.
This project must be done as soon as possible at an estimated cost of $150,000.
In order to undertake the work, a full shutdown of the Gale Centre must be implemented, staff say.
The report further recommended “additional modifications to the equipment and procedures to improve energy efficiency of the Gale Centre.”
The estimated cost of this second phase of work – which is less urgent and can be put off to 2014 – is $218,000.
This remedial work, however, could result in annual utility bill savings of $87,000.
The staff report did not mention how much glycol had leaked or where it went – nor did it make any mention of potential environmental concerns about spillage of a chemical that’s generally classified as moderately toxic.
During an interview Thursday, Niagara Falls chief administrative officer Ken Todd said he doesn’t know how much glycol leaked from the system and is not sure whether the consultants could answer that question either.
Nor is the city sure exactly when the pipes began to leak.
Todd said staff do, however, believe the leaks have and are confined to indoor spaces and none of the fluid made its way into the natural environment.
To his knowledge, the ministry has so far only placed one call to arena staff inquiring about the leaks and in his own discussions with an MOE official on Thursday there was no indication that there would be any further steps taken.
Still, Todd pledged complete cooperation.
“We’re willing to help in any way we can,” he said.
Todd said the ministry did not request the consultants’ report. On the contrary, the city offered voluntarily to provide the MOE with a copy of the report and did so later in the day Thursday, he said.
During their June 11 meeting when the consultants’ report was tabled, city councillors voted to direct staff to “pursue all legal options” to ensure taxpayers aren’t shouldered with the cost of correcting the deficiencies, in the event the original contractor won’t fix the problem.
Many of those around the council chamber that night expressed their displeasure that they were not made aware of the problems – which will cause considerable disruption to arena users – at an earlier point.
“I’m so pissed off, it’s beyond belief,” an angry Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni said during the meeting.
Coun. Wayne Gates, who has repeatedly raised issues about other problems at the Gale Centre in the past, said the health and safety of arena staff and patrons should always be the highest priority.
“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Gates said during an interview Wednesday evening.
“We need to get to the bottom of this immediately,” Gates added.
Mayor Jim Diodati on Wednesday said he was not aware of the ministry’s involvement, but he sees it as positive since the MOE has expertise and can help ensure proper procedures are in place.
“That’s good,” said Diodati. “I don’t see any downside to the MOE following up.”
Construction of the Gale Centre was completed in 2010 at a cost of $38-million.
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