Pier Park ad nauseum.

Chris Bell’s ongoing criticism of the Pier Park has suffered a bit of a backlash in the local media, which has in turn resulted in Mr. Bell striking back with allegations of a personal vendetta. The drama…

Mr. Bell’s analysis of ad hominem was interesting, if slightly flawed. However, he may have a point. Little in Mrs. Jepser’s letter addressed the specific claims made by Mr. Bell. These are claims I am painfully familiar with, and have addressed specifically in the past. Mr. Bell has even offered to retort to my criticism of his specific claims, but so far, he has failed to do so.

So I will avoid ad hominem, and address Mr. Bell’s specific claims, as he presented them in his recent letter, and since he raised the spectre of Logical Fallacy, I will return the favour:

“I have claimed that the railroad lands north of the Westminster Pier Park are themselves a brownfield site…”

This is a factual error. For a piece of land to be a “brownfield”, it must be abandoned, or have lost its useful value due to actual or perceived contamination. The rail lines are far from abandoned, but are being used to move trains. They are an active contaminated site. To the best of my knowledge, there are no plans for them to be abandoned any time in the near future. (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology)

“…heavily contaminated…”

This phrase is kind of subjective, and judgmental in this setting. There is inferred contamination in the groundwater (and potentially the soil) under the tracks, but by what measure is contamination “heavy”? (Logical Fallacy: use of Weasel Words)

“…with hazardous levels of tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and cichloroethylene,”(sic)

This assertion is not supported by the facts. There is some concentration of these three solvents (common in drycleaning solutions and things like brake cleaners or carburettor treatments you can buy at Canadian Tire) in the groundwater at the park. No-where in the reports is it suggested that these solvents are present in concentrations regulated under the Hazardous Waste Regulations. Therefore the use of “hazardous” in the strict sense of the Environmental Management Act is wrong, and (as we will see next) incorrect in the informal sense (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology).

“…and therefore must be avoided”.

This is a complete non-sequitor. I have explained this to Mr. Bell several times, but he continuously fails to acknowledge the fact. The identified contamination under the rails area is in groundwater 40 feet below the surface. It does not now, nor will conceivably ever, pose a health risk to people standing on the tracks. No matter how hard or how often he bangs this drum, it ain’t the truth (Logical Fallacy: Non-Sequitor).

“I have questioned why the City of New Westminster, having known about the toxic railway right-of-way (which it owns) for many months, has not posted signs alerting citizens to the toxic soils.”

And I suspect the answer he received was: there is no risk to people using the tracks from the soils, and the railway already has signs saying “Private Property: keep off”. Not because of the risk from soils, but because of the risk caused by onrushing trains!

“This claim is not in dispute…”

Yes it is, and I have disputed it with Mr. Bell repeatedly. (Logical Fallacy: this is a form of Begging the Question)

“as the City of New Westminster sent a report to the Ministry of Environment eight months ago outlining how the railway land soils are high risk for contamination.”

And, as has been explained to Mr. Bell several times, the “High Risk” designation under the Contaminated Sites Regulations has no relation whatsoever to actual hazard caused to people walking on the tracks or using the park (Logical Fallacy: incorrect use of terminology).

“ That same report outlines how the railway lands are more contaminated than the park soils were”

There is an interesting use of the phrase “more contaminated”. The Park soils had metals contamination in the surface soils (now removed), and small patches of near-surface light hydrocarbon contamination (now removed or treated), and low concentrations of the chlorinated solvents in groundwater at one location at great depth. The concentrations of the solvents at depth are likely higher under the tracks, but there is no indication the metals of light hydrocarbon contamination is present on the tracks.

“(that’s saying something considering how toxic the soils of the park were)”

No it isn’t. It isn’t saying anything, since the bulk of contamination in the Park lands was addressed and was in no way related to the contamination under the tracks. (Logical Fallacy: the Association Fallacy).

Another interesting Logical Fallacy has come up recently in the media discussion about the Pier Park. First the main argument was that there was something underhanded about how the park was purchased (secret deals, etc.), and those were well refuted. This was followed by the suggestion that there was a lack of environmental due diligence in the purchase (also refuted). Then the argument was that the contamination on the site was going to be a danger to park users (yes, refuted), which shifted slightly to an argument that the tracks adjacent to the Park were dangerous to trespassers (now, hopefully, completely refuted). Now the argument is arouynd a preceived inadequacy in the number of piles being used to stabilise the pier, as if the structural engineers, geotechnical engineers, and the City are conspiring together the endanger park users…

This technique is known as the “Gish Gallop”.

3 comments on “Pier Park ad nauseum.

  1. Come on Patrick…I offered to discuss your last 3000 word treatise if you sent an edited version to the local newspapers as a letter. Again I say, enough of your ill-informed opinion on the safety of the pier that you blab on about on your blog. You say you’ve refuted everything I’ve had to say but base your opinions on nothing but an over arching belief in your own unsupported opinion. Send your rebuttal to the Leader and the Record but keep it less than 400 words.

  2. I am really not interested in having a battle in the newspaper over this, as it lends more credence to the issue than it deserves, and I think competing 400-word missives are kind of a useless way to discuss an issue. Making baseless accusations is easy in under 400 words, especially if you aren’t mindful of the technical meanings of terms used (e.g, “high risk”) but a detailed refutation of these claims usually requires more text than fits in a tidy letter.

    If you feel my opinion is ill-informed, please point me towards better information so I can become informed. You have my e-mail address. I think I have supported my points very well, including links to relevant City and Ministry of Environment documents throughout my “3000 word treatise”.

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