Heading west on Highway 1A, travellers descending into Cochrane down the ‘Big Hill’ are greeted with a stunning mountain vista slightly marred by a very large gravel lot right in the middle of town.
Between 1964 and 1988, the area was home to Domtar, a wood treatment facility who, according to the Cochrane Eagle newspaper, used a tar/creosote mixture consisting of semi-volatile polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and pentachlorophenol to treat to railway ties leading to the contamination of the soil.
When Domtar left, the site remained an eyesore in the midst of a town that was quickly growing. In 1999, Cochrane was a town of 4,541 a number that more than tripled in the next ten years expanding to 15,242 as of 2009. In 2000, about nine hectares of the site were remediated and developed into a Canadian Tire, Safeway shopping centre, emergency services facility and health unit leaving about 18-hectares to be remediated.
In 2010, owners of the site, Springwood Land Corporation, brought in Biogénie, a site assessment and remediation business unit for environmental service corporation EnGlobe to remediate the area and in March of 2011, the Town of Cochrane began the process of compiling a planning and design framework for the site.
Now known as the “Quarry”, the site is set for development. Cleanup of the area involved contaminated soil being treated on site and then reused, what Cochrane senior manager of planning and engineering Kathy Dietrich called “a very environmentally friendly approach”, has completed and been reviewed by Alberta Environment.
“We are now moving forward with a detailed design of the Centre Avenue extension, which will go through the Quarry site as an arterial road that connects to Griffin (Road),” said Rick Deans, infrastructure senior manager with The Town of Cochrane. “A new at-grade rail crossing will also be constructed at Centre Avenue. We have tendered the project and within the next month or so, we’ll see infrastructure work beginning.”
Being in such close proximity to Calgary, the Quarry site offers an opportunity to revitalize Cochrane’s downtown core. Already known for its main street with the infamous MacKay’s Ice Cream and other character shops, Dietrich explained the development will attract more shoppers to the area.
“Most municipalities our size have a need for large-format retail but usually end up developing those options at the edge of town where they draw energy away from the downtown,” she said. “Cochrane is unique in that we have this amazing opportunity with an (18 hectare) site right in the centre of our community to bring shoppers into our general downtown area.”
Envisioned for the site is a collection of big box style stores, smaller shops and residential opportunities with easy pedestrian access and the potential for plazas or sidewalk cafes.
“From the residential perspective, we know that when people are looking for a home, they’re also looking for a complete community with everything from parks and recreation amenities to a variety of shopping choices,” said Dietrich. “Developers in Cochrane are really excited about this downtown revitalization because of what it means to existing and potential homeowners in Cochrane.
“It’s really important to note that this development is unique in that it understands and reflects the uniqueness of Cochrane. Our small town, western identity is our competitive advantage. When we’re all working with that, we’re all more likely to be successful at the end of the day.”