Jet fuel contaminated land leads to nearly $900K payout for Labrador hotel owner

    Hotel North, Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Credit: Katie Breen/CBC

    A hotel owner in Happy Valley-Goose Bay has won a lawsuit against the Government of Canada for the way it handled a massive aviation fuel mess on his property.

    Lloyd Hillier’s company filed a suit claiming the government knew about the contamination and did nothing to advise adjacent property owners, didn’t investigate further and didn’t clean it up.

    The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has ruled that Hillier, owner of the Hotel North One, on Loring Drive, should have been warned about the pollutants in the ground under his property near the main gate to the former American military base.

    The large plume of contaminated soil around the gate is estimated to be nine hectares or larger — the size of nine international rugby fields.

    Problem started decades ago

    The source of the mess dates back more than half a century, to the 1950s or 60s, when the United States Air Force operated the base.

    Back then aircraft fuel was shipped in, a year’s worth at a time, and transported through pipelines from the shipping terminal to a tank farm.

    In 1993, Lloyd Hillier bought some land about 100 meters from the main gate. He built a two storey hotel and in 2004 he bought more land and constructed an annex which included a restaurant. Court documents show he was advised of potential problems in 2004.

    In a 144-page decision, the court said the Department of National Defence knew the extent of the contamination in April 2001 and didn’t tell Hillier until July 2004. His property wasn’t tested for contamination until November of that year.

    In July 2005 he was given the results and told of the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons on his property in the soil at the water table and in the ground water.

    Responsible for damage

    In her decision, Justice Gillian Butler said the Government of Canada had a duty to warn Hillier of what it knew or should have known about the environmental contamination to his property. The decision said because of the “stigma,” the value of Hillier’s property has gone down by $885,985.90 and he must be reimbursed by that amount. Hillier also hired a scientist for investigative work and the court said he should be reimbursed for that.

    The judge did not support the plaintiff’s assertions of “conspiracy or fraudulent or illegal concealment”. She said while the Department of National Defence was “neglectful” the delay in informing Hillier was “not deliberately designed” to hurt him. Peak says he hopes the soil development will help clean up brownfields — land previously used by large companies that is polluted by hazardous waste — and make the land useable.