A citizen’s group that wants the partially demolished former GM property on Ontario Street cleaned up is stepping up its efforts, calling on officials to take action.
Coalition for a Better St. Catharines sent letters to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development and Niagara Public Health Tuesday asking each agency to get involved in the issue.
It also sent out a press release calling on the province and city to immediately clean up the site, privately owned by Bayshore Groups, which includes piles of rubble and partial structures.
“We’re not asking them to go in and remediate the land. We’re asking them just to make it safe and to ensure that there’s no toxins leaching off the site,” said Dennis Van Meer, Coalition for a Better St. Catharines spokesman.
“Right now the immediate concern is we need to ensure the public and the environment is not being exposed to hazards coming off that site.”
The requests come after a Ministry of the Environment report in July found high levels of PCBs in Twelve Mile Creek near the property, supported in August by an independent consultant firm hired by the coalition which noted the presence of disturbed and distressed vegetation along drainage to the creek.
Environmental Liability Management wrote in a report for the coalition that its observations indicated contaminants are likely entering the creek with “unknown consequences on wildlife and human health.”
Residents in the surrounding area of the industrial site have raised concerns about what is contained in the piles of rubble and whether the air and runoff near their homes is safe.
After the coalition formed and held a public meeting in January, city council passed a multi-step action plan to address the health, safety and security concerns at the site. Steps included securing the fencing, cleaning up graffiti, hiring an external law firm to discuss the municipality’s options and asking the Ministry of the Environment to do testing, among others.
Tami Kitay, the city’s director of planning and building services, said the municipality has executed almost every item on the action plan, is strengthening enforcement through its new waste bylaw and continues to clean up graffiti and boulevard weeds.
“The site is absolutely a priority for the city,” she said Tuesday. “We continue to advance it in the best way we are able to with our legal authority.”
Mayor Walter Sendzik said city officials have focused on working with the owners of the property but can’t go onto the property, take it over and assume liability.
“It’s been a priority of ours since Day 1. I don’t think anyone could say the city has ignored this issue at all. Anyone who says that is just playing politics,” he said.
“The reality is that this is private property and there are regulations surrounding private property and what the city is able to do and not able to do.”
After the MOE was asked to do testing, it conducted water sampling in Twelve Mile Creek in February, which led to the report released in July finding the PCBs and cadmium that were higher than the province’s guidelines.
However, the ministry said the results revealed that water quality downstream of the site has not been impacted.
Spokesman Gary Wheeler said Tuesday the ministry is planning additional water sampling and that an air monitoring survey is ongoing to assess for any dust impacts from the rubble piles.
“The ministry will provide all results to the city and to the property owner to assist in determining whether plans for cleanup are required,” he said by email.
“We will continue to stay on top of this issue.”
St. Patrick’s Coun. Karrie Porter, whose ward includes the property, said the ministry has been asked to come to council with its results and answer questions.