City faces private charge over pollution from Belle Park

Bill Hutchins

An environmentalist has started a private prosecution against the City of Kingston claiming a former garbage dump is leaking “toxic” waste. The municipal dump, which operated from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, is underneath the Belle Park public golf course on Montreal Street. In her prosecution, Janet Fletcher alleges that about 68,000 gallons of leachate a day is seeping from the dump into the nearby Cataraqui River. Leachate is garbage juice created when rainwater or ground water passes through layers of decaying garbage. Fletcher says she laid a private charge because the city is exposing humans and wildlife to hazardous waste. “I don’t really enjoy this. But to me, it’s sickening,” says Fletcher, who lives in Inverary just north of Kingston. Fletcher says an anonymous tip last fall sparked her interest in Belle Park. The tip led her to a liquid substance that was “oozing” onto the beach from the north shore of Belle Park.Sierra Club funding action

She hooked up with Sierra Club, an environmental watchdog group, which has decided to finance her legal action. The group took water samples on four different dates last December and sent them to a Toronto-area lab for testing. “The toxic material gushing from the site contains heavy metals and benzene, a known human carcinogen. Test fish that were exposed to (the samples) were killed almost immediately,” says Tom Heintzman, a staff lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, in aMarch 13 news release. The news release also alleges the amount of toxic material pouring into the river is the “equivalent of 20 full tank-trucks each day.”

Charge states that 68,000 gallons of leachate a day is seeping into the Cataraqui RiverFletcher says the amount of leachate is not based on her tests, but on a 1994 report by the ministry of the environment and energy (MOEE), which she obtained through a freedom of information request. “The MOEE has known about it.

The city has known about it. But the ministry has never said ‘do something or we’ll prosecute’,” she adds. Fletcher speculates one reason for the ministry’s apparent foot dragging on the pollution report is due to staff cuts at the Kingston MOEE office. She convinced a local justice of the peace on March 10 to lay a pollution-related charge against the city under the federal Fisheries Act, which carries a maximum fine of $1.2 million.City response

City officials are tight-lipped about the legal action, but plan to respond to the private charge at the first court appearance April 15. Meanwhile, an unsigned news release from city hall says the city is “undertaking some remedial measures” at Belle Park. Councillor Mary Fleming notes the city has already presented the MOEE with a plan to clean-up pollution problems associated with the former dump over a number of decades. She says she was “surprised” to hear about a private prosecution. Fleming won’t comment on the litigation or whether the city dump is the source of the widespread and toxic pollution that Fletcher’s charge alleges. But she says Kingston is not the first city, and won’t be the last, to be haunted by old garbage dumps. “We can’t just bury garbage in the ground, put a golf course on top of it and hope it will go away,” she adds. Even Fletcher concedes there were few, if any, environmental controls in the siting, operation and closure of dumps years ago. However, she says past mistakes should not get the city off the present-day hook. “I don’t think they should get off that lightly. The blame has to lay on the doorstep of this municipality,” says Fletcher.

Fought city hall before

It’s not the first time Fletcher has fought battles with city hall. She is a member of the Storrington Committee Against Trash (SCAT) – a group that opposed efforts to reopen the Storrington dump a few years ago. But she says these battles have nothing to do with this current prosecution. “This is no revenge thing,” she says, adding “I’m an environmentalist, I can’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on.”