September 19/2000

Toronto Star

Hamilton whacked with $450,000 fine for pollution

The City of Hamilton will pay a record $450,000 in fines for letting toxic liquid seep from the old Rennie Street dump into Red Hill Creek and then Hamilton Harbour.

Environmental lawyer Douglas Chapman says it’s the biggest penalty imposed on any Canadian municipality for pollution offences.

Of the total, $300,000 is for conviction on a federal Fisheries Act charge laid by Lynda Lukasik, Hamilton’s 1999 environmentalist of the year, who will collect half, or $150,000, under fine-splitting provisions of the law.

Chapman, who works for the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, says it’s the largest award ever for a private prosecution under the act.

Lukasik, 33, is a research assistant at McMaster University completing a PhD at the University of Waterloo. She pledged her share of the money would pay costs of the investigation and prosecution, with the balance going to local environmental protection and advocacy work.

She and other east Hamilton residents collected water samples last summer and had them analysed with help from the Environmental Bureau of Investigation and the Sierra fund.

The city pleaded guilty to the Fisheries Act charge laid by Lukasik and one under the Ontario Water Resources Act laid by the provincial environment ministry. The fine for the provincial charge is $150,000.

A third charge, laid by Lukasik under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act, was withdrawn.

Lukasik said she was thrilled to take the city to court and win.

”It sends a strong message to the City of Hamilton that citizens aren’t going to stand for inaction on the environment.

”I hope the fines will stand as a strong deterrent. Let the city and other polluters be warned. We will be watching and we now have funds.”

In addition to the fines, the city faces a legal bill of as much as $150,000, and taxpayers are on the hook for an estimated $11 million to stop PCBs, pesticides and fish-killing ammonia from reaching the creek.

Mayor Bob Morrow said he believes the city was treated ”unfairly by the ministry. But so what? We have a responsibility to clean this up. This brings it to a conclusion.”

Alderman Chad Collins, who has chaired the city’s transport and environment committee since 1998, said delays in building the Red Hill Creek Expressway have held up the dump clean-up.

”We had a plan to clean it up that was part of the expressway project. This is one of the many costs associated with delay of the expressway.”

Chapman said the city could have been fined as much as $300,000 a day for the six days on which Lukasik’s charges were based. Instead, the fisheries fine was calculated at $50,000 a day.

Provincial prosecutor John Herlihy said the environment ministry could have asked for $800,000 but was settling for $150,000, calling that enough to act as a deterrent.

He said the amount is in line with a $200,000 fine recently imposed on Stelco Inc. for an oil spill into the harbour, though the company is appealing the amount.

From some time in the 1950s until about 1962, household and industrial waste was used to fill part of the Red Hill Creek floodplain at the end of Rennie Street, a few blocks east of Woodward Avenue and north of Barton Street.

The province didn’t start regulating waste sites until the 1970s, so the dump was never licensed or formally closed, and a works yard now occupies part of the site.

The amount of waste is estimated at 400,000 cubic metres – enough for a pile covering a Canadian football field two and a half storeys deep.

Seepage was detected as far back as 1989, but the city hoped Hamilton-Wentworth region would fix the problem when it built the expressway.

Toronto lawyer David Crocker says the city still held that hope when the environment ministry complained in 1998, and both city and regional staff thought the province was willing to wait.

It appears all the governments involved were surprised when Lukasik laid charges. The province only began its legal action afterward.

Outside court, Crocker said: ”To say the city’s attention has been caught is to put it mildly. The city just threw away $450,000 in recognizing they were wrong. They don’t want to do that again, I am sure.”

Justice of the Peace Wendy Casey, who accepted the plea bargain, was told the city still needs provincial and federal approval to move the creek bed east so water doesn’t erode the edge of the dump.