City to clean up Hess Street toxic barrels
Hamilton poised to remove hazards, mulls seizing property as owner neglects mess and falls behind in taxes
A city contractor will start removing barrels of industrial waste Monday from an infamous Hess Street North property that council is now considering seizing over unpaid taxes.
The public health department confirmed the $138,000 cleanup of the still-privately owned 249 Hess St. N. in an email to Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr Friday.
“From a public health perspective, the removal of the surface barrels significantly reduces any risk the abandoned waste may pose to the surrounding community and environment and will reduce risks associated with trespassing on the site,” wrote health protection director Rob Hall.
The vacant former asphalt plant was ordered fenced off by the Ministry of the Environment in 2010 after local activist Matt Jelly highlighted hundreds of carelessly stored barrels of unidentified waste.
But last March, vandals dumped around 50 barrels of reddish liquid — which tested positive for high levels of heavy metals — onto the ground and into the
Farr said Saturday that incident created urgency to deal with the property — especially since the current owner, Dave Maden, has so far ignored a court order to clean up the barrels and assess the property for other possible pollution underground.
Maden owes more than $380,000 in unpaid taxes, cleanup fees and fines linked to the property — and as a result, the city has a rapidly closing window to seize the property. The Spectator was unable to reach the Scarborough resident, but in the past Maden has said he doesn’t have the money to comply with the order and believes the barrels contain mostly water.
A report going to councillors Wednesday suggests taking over the property and packaging it as part of the city’s eventual sale of the nearby Barton-Tiffany lands. Those former businesses and homes were originally purchased by the city for a west harbour stadium that never happened.
It’s rare for the city to seize property over tax arrears — particularly contaminated land. But Farr said he’s hopeful councillors will see it as an “opportunity.”
“The alternative is putting the lands back in control of the owner,” he said, noting the city only has until the end of February to legally take ownership of the property. “We haven’t had any success, only heartbreak, under that scenario.”
A letter from local Ministry of the Environment director Geoffrey Knapper also says if the city takes possession of the property it will not be on the hook to fulfil Maden’s court order — so long as the barrels are cleaned up.
In particular, that order requires Maden to hire a consultant to search for other possible pollution, like underground tanks.
“The ministry’s priority on this site is to have the above ground waste characterized and removed in accordance with applicable legislation. The city has indicated that this is a common goal,” Knapper wrote to the city.
A Canada goose walks through discoloured ground water collecting on the property at 249 Hess St. N. in this March 2016 photo.