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

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW VAN DONGEN

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

sewer sys­tem.

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.

HAMIL­TON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO

A Canada goose walks through dis­coloured ground wa­ter col­lect­ing on the prop­erty at 249 Hess St. N. in this March 2016 photo.

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