By Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
On August 4, 2004, stones the size of softballs went flying through the air in a Hamilton, Ontario neighbourhood. Area residents watched as rocks smashed into a car window, a fence, a roof, and a driveway. “My kids play outside and if they were out there that day, who knows what could have happened,” one resident told the local newspaper. “They could have been hit in the head.”
The flying rocks came from construction on the Red Hill Creek Expressway, about 650 feet away.The Expressway was being built through the Red Hill Valley, one of the last green corridors linking the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario. Instead of elevating the highway and bringing it over the top of the Escarpment, the City of Hamilton had opted to blast through the towering rock face, carving a notch into it and using the aggregate for the new road.
The company hired to do the blasting suspended its work and the city and labour ministry launched investigations. After deciding that a revised blasting program and repairs to damaged property were adequate, the City of Hamilton endorsed the company’s work and construction resumed.
But local citizens groups were not satisfied. Members of Environment Hamilton and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper talked to residents who had witnessed the blasting, studied media reports, and dug up legal precedents documenting convictions under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act for flyrock.
The two groups put together a brief – a collection of documents that verified their concerns – requesting that the Ministry of Environment launch its own investigation. Representatives of Environment Hamilton and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper encouraged the Ministry to take every measure to ensure public safety: “We believe the City of Hamilton’s past environmental conduct places an onus on your regulatory agency to investigate environmental complaints quickly and diligently. As enforcement of our environmental laws is essential to preventing and deterring environmental crimes in the future, a duty of care rests with your office to ensure the facts in this case are investigated and dealt with in a legal and professional manner.”
The Ministry of Environment immediately responded, forwarding the brief to its enforcement department. A year and a half later, word came that the Ministry of Environment had charged the company with four violations of the Environmental Protection Act: Two counts discharging a contaminant into the natural environment that causes an adverse effect and two counts failing to notify the Ministry of Environment following the discharge of a contaminant.
After the charges were laid, it took the efforts of independent citizens’ groups to again bring the information to the public. “The Ministry of Environment no longer announces when charges are laid,” wrote one local reporter, noting that it was Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Environment Hamilton who made details of the charges known.
The case has yet to go to court – a date is set for early February, 2006 – but Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Environment Hamilton believe the charges will encourage the company to be more diligent in the future. The groups also hope their story will encourage more citizens to document environmental concerns and push for better enforcement of our environmental laws.
For more information:
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
245 Queen’s Quay W., Toronto, ONT M5J 2K9
(416) 861-1237 • firstname.lastname@example.org