March 8, 2011

Beasley residents demand better on toxic sites

I attended a unique public meeting Saturday, those in power were responding frankly to public questions regarding abandoned toxic waste in Hamilton. (The Spectator covered the meeting and can be read here)

In a tiny old community centre, a dozen residents of Hamilton’s Beasley neighbourhood gathered to speak with provincial Ministry of Environment and City of Hamilton bylaw enforcement officials about a property in their neighbourhood found to have toxic waste.

The property at 245 Catharine Street North, just south of Barton Street, came to substantial public attention after Matt Jelly uncovered abandoned waste at 249 Hess Street North and 350 Wentworth Street North.

The owner of 245 Catharine Street North, Dave Maden,  is also the owner of 249 Hess Street South.

The property on Catharine was sold by the City to Mr. Maden with the City’s full knowledge of the environmental situation on the property, something that civil servants were repeatedly reminded of by the citizens present at the meeting. From this emerged one of the main themes of the afternoon – the City should be cleaning up properties before selling them.

The problem today is that Mr. Maden’s not following orders issued by the City – meaning the waste is not being properly disposed of.

Living in a city where the memory of Plastimet is still fresh it’s understandable that people are very concerned about the potential of a fire involving this property. The recent premature deaths of firefighters who fought the Plastimet fire is only reopening the wounds.

Civic servants were honest when asked if they expected Mr. Maden to comply with the orders.

From this emerged another theme – the City should conduct the cleanup and send Mr. Maden the bill. As one person noted, the city will cut grass and clear snow, but not remove toxic waste. It’s a simplification – one can access the sidewalk and front lawns of place, but the point is received. Citizens would like government to be able to act on waste.

In the end, both citizens and civil servants left the meeting with a better understanding of the complex viewpoints of each other. Most importantly, both gained a great respect for the other.

What will result from this meeting?

Civil servants are already increasing their response to property and environmental enforcement – this meeting will not change this.

It is possible that citizens will petition City Council to change policy to cleanup sites prior to sale for tax arrears and to conduct cleanups of toxic waste with a bill sent to the property owner similar to what occurs for snow clearing and lawn cutting.