Pincher Creek town council has voted to meet with a local energy company in hopes of resolving a July 2022 “wastewater issue” that saddled the company with a hefty cleanup bill and shut down its wastewater disposal facility for nearly two weeks. 

Alan McRae, manager of Triple T Energy’s work yard and sanitation dump at 1377 Hunter St., told Pincher Creek’s committee of the whole Feb. 1 that the town’s “inept handling of the situation cost one of your taxpayers $9,500, plus loss of income due to the septic dump site being shut down.”

A recent report by Alexa Levair, director of operations as of last November, clarifies some of the concerns McRae expressed to the committee, but not all of Levair’s findings were published in council’s Feb. 27 agenda. 

“Council was given a confidential package that includes some of the pieces that the public isn’t privy to,” Levair said at chambers. 

That information is confidential according to sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act barring the release of information that could harm third-party business interests or information touching on recent advice from officials, Levair told Shootin’ the Breeze.

The public section of Levair’s report confirms that the July 7 incident required cleanup and testing services in the amount of $9,500, that town hall notified Alberta’s Environment Ministry of possible wastewater contamination before contacting Triple T, and that the former director of operations then entered Triple T’s site without asking permission.  

Events were set in motion that morning when town staff spotted a thick “black substance, inconsistent with household waste” coating the town’s main lift station, Levair’s report says. Staff quickly traced the substance back to Triple’s T’s sanitation dump, leading to urgent concerns that the sludge might contaminate the town’s wastewater treatment lagoons. 

Town hall immediately alerted Alberta Environment because municipalities are legally bound to notify the province of suspected environmental contaminants, while town staff entered Triple T’s Pincher Creek site to conduct emergency testing. 

As of 2021, Pincher Creek’s wastewater bylaw (No. 1607) stated that the director of operations and authorized town employees “shall be permitted to enter upon all [utility] properties for the purpose of inspection, observation, measurement, sampling and testing” as laid out in the bylaw. 

But staff never independently tested the sludge. Levair couldn’t account for this, reminding council that she wasn’t director of operations last summer, and that the community peace officer who also attended Triple T’s town site no longer works for the town. 

McRae told last month’s committee that the sludge was blackwater that had been hauled to the Triple T site from a residential septic tank. 

Wastewater was tested at the affected lift station July 7, with results showing allowable environmental limits. But Levair’s report qualified that the results were “reflective of the actively flowing [wastewater] at the time of sampling and not indicative of any contamination which had flowed through the system prior to testing.” 

The public section of her report doesn’t say if any such contamination occurred. 

Triple T wasn’t given the chance to deal with the mess, whatever it was, because the town needed a reclamation company to clean up the unknown substance.

The scope of the cleanup affected vital infrastructure well beyond the main lift station, requiring two vacuum trucks in the event of a worst-case scenario, Levair stated in her report. 

Laurie Wilgosh, who was chief administrative officer last July, said she explained the town’s handling of events with the owner of Triple T, who lives in Claresholm. McRae was perhaps not aware of everything they discussed before he presented last month to the committee of the whole, Wilgosh said. 

Council unanimously voted to set up a meeting with McRae and the town’s new CAO, Angie Lucas. 

Coun. Sahra Nodge, who motioned for the meeting, said she hoped the parties would address community service levels set in the town’s service agreement with Triple T.

By Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 08, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Shootin' the Breeze   Pincher Creek, Alberta
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