January 19/2001

The Hamilton Spectator

Ministry has no staff to monitor tainted snow
by Eric Mcguinness

Dispute between environmentalists and the Environment Ministry over contaminated Red Hill Creek land continues.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment says it no longer has the staff to deal with issues such as snow dumped on contaminated land beside Red Hill Creek.

Hamilton East Liberal MPP Dominic Agostino calls the statement shocking.

“It’s astonishing that they’re admitting, finally after six years, that the ministry has reduced service. This is the first time, I believe, that the ministry and the government of Ontario are clearly admitting a reduction in enforcement and their ability to enforce environmental laws.”

Ministry district supervisor Carl Slater said, in an e-mail message to Hamilton environmentalist Lynda Lukasik, that it’s up to her to pursue the issue with the city — which dumped the snow — or possibly the Hamilton Region Conservation Authority.

Slater said the do-it-yourself policy was established several years ago when the Harris government slashed ministry spending and staff levels.

“The ministry has made a decision that all issues related to snow dumps are to be handled by the road authority or other municipal/provincial agency that established the snow dump.

“This decision was made as a means of avoiding reduced service expectations in light of ministry downsizing several years ago.

“As a result, I must say that the ministry will not intervene in this or other snow dumps. My advice would be to continue your focus of action with the municipality and conservation authority.”

A spokesman at Queen’s Park yesterday confirmed that is the ministry’s position provincewide.

Environmentalists and opposition politicians consider it significant that the ministry acknowledges it no longer has the ability to handle complaints about such things as snow dumps, noise, odour and sandblasting.

Lukasik complained last week about Hamilton scooping snow off city streets and piling it on contaminated soil that may lie over a former landfill site running west from Nash Road to Red Hill Creek.

She thinks Slater was being “very frank with me about the fact here’s another responsibility the MOE (Ministry of Environment) has been forced to abandon because of cuts imposed by the Harris government.”

Conservation authority staffers reportedly told her they don’t think it’s within their mandate, and she says no other government body has the resources or expertise to deal with it.

Agostino said yesterday: “I question whether there’s anyone left in the province of Ontario to enforce environmental laws. You would think Walkerton would have been a lesson that we should be more vigilant.”

Stoney Creek MPP Brad Clark, a Conservative whose riding takes in east Hamilton, Grimsby and Glanbrook, could not be reached for comment.

The city has stopped dumping on the former auto scrapyard and says it will take steps to minimize pollution as the snow melts.