Response to Council Enquiries: Helena Street

Enquiry by: Mayor Wayne Redekop
Nature of Enquiry: Helena Street Spill

1. Should the Town be more pro-active in the enforcement of by-laws? If so, how should we proceed?

Fire Department Inspectors are pro-active when time permits, and work load /training load is not prohibitive. The pro-active inspection of all properties would be ideal with the appropriate amount of staff; however, this would be prohibitive with the current complement.

Where permission is denied, or where the owner is not known, an entry warrant may be required. Once on the property, the Fire Department has the authority to order an owner to do things, or where the owner is unknown or not participating, to actually complete the work that is required to make the building safe. Circumstance will require that we apply to the Fire Safety Commission. The municipality would then be responsible for the costs, and attempt to recover them through taxes. Often, these properties are already in tax arrears, and have little value.

In addition to the legislative challenges, Fire Prevention staff would then be tasked with an extremely increased work load. Simple inspections that will result in charges often take up to 40 hours of preparation, court appearances, trial, and follow up. Being more pro-active will quickly tax the inspectors’ ability to deal with these inspections, to conduct request or complaint inspection (required under Code).

Note: the Helena Street property was inspected by the Fire Department and the Ministry of the Environment in late 2014, with ongoing discussions about removal of on-site product. The products that have been identified as the spilled product were not identified in the inspection and the source is currently under investigation at this time. Inspectors do not have the ability to inspect unknown, hidden underground tanks, or septic systems.

By-law Enforcement: From the time period of January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014, By-law Enforcement had a total of 580 complaints. Of the 580 complaints that staff dealt with 106 were self-directed pro-active complaints. By-law Enforcement is at their maximum capacity with the present complement of staff, which is two. One of the By-law Enforcement Officers will be joining the Fire Department and we are in the process of hiring a replacement that may not have the same level of experience.

2. Is there any mechanism for the municipality to inspect or monitor buildings where known toxic chemicals are utilized or manufactured? Whether a business is on-going or closed?

Fire Inspectors can enter properties under the following circumstances:

1. Where a fire is occurring, or is likely to occur. No advance notice or permission is required.
2. To conduct an investigation where a fire has occurred. No permission is required until criminal evidence is found, then a warrant is required.
3. To complete an inspection. Permission is required, or a warrant is required if no permission is granted.
4. Where there is an immediate threat to life. No notice or permission is required.

In order for By-law Enforcement to gain entry onto property they use the powers of The Planning Act, Building Code Act and Municipal Act.
All Acts allow By-law Enforcement Officers entry onto property to enforce our by-laws. They use the powers in the specific Act to investigate complaints i.e. zoning under the Planning Act, Property Standards under the Building Code Act and lot maintenance under the Municipal Act.
Officers can enter dwellings under the Planning Act or Building Code Act only if they:

  • clearly identify themselves;
  • ask permission to inspect and it is granted;
  • inform them why they are there;
  • inform them that they have a right of refusal to give Officers entry at any time. (once that occurs Officers leave);

If they do not grant permission then, if need be, Officers can try to obtain a search warrant.
By-law Officers also have authority to inspect land with or without the owner/tenants permission under the three Acts and can inspect accessory buildings with or without their permission under the authority of the Building Code Act (for property standards) and the Planning Act.

3. What is the status of the old Lucidol property?
The old Lucidol property is presently vacant and the Ministry of the Environment will not do anything.

4. Who, if anyone, regulates what kinds of toxic or potentially dangerous materials are in commercial buildings or on commercial property?
The Fire Department and By-law Enforcement are not required to be notified of chemical use in buildings; however, routine inspections and fire safety plan review will identify issues and emergency response procedures. Fire fighters often tour and train with employees of identified higher hazard properties.

5. A protocol should be established with respect to communications and providing accurate information to the public when incidents of this nature occur. It is essential that the public have accurate and timely information with respect to these types of incidents.
Staff are in agreement that we must do a better job at notifying the public through the use of the Town web site, social media and notices in the newspaper. There is a need for a full-time Communications person. This has been noted various times by Council and is identified in the new Strategic Plan for 2015-2018 Goal C – Strong Customer Service, Relationship and Communications. The key initiative under this goal is to create a communications position by the end of 2015. It will be the responsibility of this individual to create a communications plan.

6. Are there things that residents can do in emergency situations?
Emergency preparedness for residents that live in the area of high hazard businesses can do a number of things that can make them safer in the event of a spill. 72 hour pamphlets are available online and in print that provide some basic survival skills. In addition, some of the local chemical users are involved in the C.A.E.R. group. This group is comprised of chemical producers and users around Niagara. They meet regularly to discuss best practices and often conduct open houses at various facilities, allowing members of the public to tour the facility and become more aware of what hazards are involved. Home owners are encouraged to contact the plant manager at local facilities and have a discussion with them in regards to hazards on site and emergency procedures.

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