October 23, 2013

Fill Guide requirements called "onerous”

As published in The Erin Advocate

A proposed guide to help citizens do their own initial investigation of suspected improper fill sites was rejected by councillors last week.

They were satisfied with the sections that educated the public on fill issues, but sent the document back to Planner Sally Stull for revision because of the requirement to ask questions in person.

Councillor Deb Callaghan said urging citizens to confront people possibly engaged in an illegal activity is “putting them in a situation that is not safe”.

“I don't want to be putting residents in harm's way,” said Mayor Lou Maieron.

“Expecting people to gather this is quite onerous,” said Councillor John Brennan. “As much of this information as we can get from the complainant would be good, but certainly I would not like anybody to think that if it isn’t completed in full, that the complaint would not be acted upon.”

The introduction in the draft version of the guide advises users that, “The Town of Erin Municipal Law Enforcement Department cannot undertake an investigation or lay charges without the following information being provided.”

“I don't want this to be a requirement,” said Councillor Barb Tocher. "This is only a guide."

The document, which would be available on the Town website, is written for residents who “have witnessed and are concerned about soils being delivered and placed on land within the Town of Erin”. They would answer a series of questions with Yes or No, and fill in a series of blanks with information before contacting the Town.

If the citizen determines that more than 20 truck loads have been dumped (the maximum without a permit), they would be asked to take photos and “may inform the person running the fill operation that it must be terminated immediately as they are in violation of the site alteration by-law and continued operation without a site alteration permit will result in charges being laid. Inform them that they will be receiving a written ‘cease and desist’ order from the by-law enforcement officer.”

Anna Spiteri of the group Citizens Against Fill Dumping said it is reasonable for citizens to provide some information to the Town, but not to be involved in investigation and enforcement.

“This has a high likelihood of developing into a physical altercation. The citizen is not trained as an enforcement officer. Estimation of loads can best be done by an enforcement officer who has the right to go onto the property and to ask questions. Very few taxpayers will have the nerve to question a driver and very few drivers will provide accurate information to a person who is not an official of the Town.”

The guide is an attempt to screen out complaints about fill situations that are outside the Town’s fill bylaw jurisdiction, including aggregate pits which are controlled by the Ministry of Natural Resources, large areas (about 50 per cent of Erin) which involve wetlands and are regulated by Credit Valley Conservation, and fill being placed under authority of a building permit.

“We’re sending them everywhere but here – one-stop shopping would be nice,” said Tocher, prompting a burst of applause from some in attendance.

Brennan said the guide should not be construed as taking the place of the planned review of the fill bylaw. Maieron said there is “loophole” for abuse if excess fill is brought in on a building permit.

“The simple solution for the bylaw is that no fill be accepted except from a licensed aggregate site,” said Tocher, to another round of applause. “You know it’s clean fill and they’re paying for it, not being paid for it. We don’t have to care if they get 10, 20 or a hundred, because they’re paying for it.”

Stull noted that the Town’s Municipal Law Enforcement Officer has only a part-time position, and that fill investigations can require “considerable staff hours”. There have been no applications or approvals for site alterations in 2013.

If a citizen suspects fill is contaminated, they are urged to contact the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) directly, since contaminating the environment is a provincial offence. Spiteri said the MOE is only interested in dealing with contamination from “waste”, and not from fill.