Meeting with the Minister of the Environment
In our April newsletter we reported that emission photos from the Dofasco/ArcelorMittal meltshop published in local newspapers prompted the Ministry of the Environment to provide a long overdue response to our Environmental Bill of Rights application for a review of the operating certificates for that plant.
The Ministry denied our request so we decided to take our concerns to Queen’s Park. In early April, with the help of Hamilton East – Stoney Creek MPP Paul Miller and NDP Environment Critic Peter Tabuns, we held a press conference in the Queen’s Park media room. The purpose of the media event was to underscore our concerns about on-going visible emissions from Hamilton’s industrial core and to pressure the MOE to give some serious attention to the problem.
McAnulty neighbourhood resident Lorna Moreau spoke passionately at the media conference about the impacts that on-going emission problems have had on her quality of life. She described how she and her neighbours are constantly cleaning industrial fallout off of lawn furniture and that they worry about the impacts of industrial emissions on their health and the health of their families. But Lorna also emphasized the fact that the neighbourhood is not fighting to see local industries closed down. They just want their industrial neighbours to be good neighbours.
Following on the heels of the media conference, EH staff and community members were approached by provincial Minister of the Environment John Gerretsen. Minister Gerretsen indicated that he wanted to arrange to talk with us in more detail about our concerns. We followed up on his offer and, on May 6, we were back at Queen’s Park for a face-to-face meeting with the minister.
The meeting provided EH staff members Lynda Lukasik and Brenda Johnson and community members Lorna Moreau and Linda Pickvance with a wonderful opportunity to share concerns directly with the Minister.
Also present at the meeting were Bill Bardswick, the Director of MOE’s West Central Region and Mark Dunn, area supervisor from the Hamilton District Office. We expressed our frustrations and concerns with the Minister, showed him our growing collection of problem emission photographs taken since January of this year, and asked that he ensure his Ministry is taking the necessary actions to ensure Hamilton industries are abiding by the provincial rules and regulations already in place to protect our environment.
Lorna Moreau asked the Minister why local industries had been allowed to get away with emission problems for so long without facing any penalties or charges from the Ministry. We also questioned why MOE has approved new industrial facilities, such as the Liberty Energy sludge/ woodwaste gasification plant, in an already compromised airshed.
The meeting concluded with a promise from Minister Gerretsen that his ministry would take steps to improve the situation. We extended an invitation for Minister Gerretsen to come down to Hamilton some time this summer to experience firsthand what residents like Lorna are struggling with on a daily basis.
Our hope is that this concerted effort will results in positive change. We have already heard that the Hamilton District Office of the MOE is embarking on an enhanced effort to track and address air emission concerns in the northeast end of our city. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that the situation improves!
[Photo shows Lorna Moreau and her grandson (right) plus EH project manager Brenda Johnson (left) during their April visit to Queen's Park]
Congratulations to Jim Quinn
Long time EH director Jim Quinn has won the Environmentalist of the Year Lifetime Achievement award. The honour recognizes both his volunteer and academic scientific efforts to protect and enhance the environment. Jim is known globally for his innovative research on the impacts of Hamilton air pollution on germ-line mutations in mammals and other ground-breaking biological and ornithological work at McMaster.
He’s also a highly regarded professor, but somehow finds time to be one of the most active environmental volunteers in the city. In addition to five years as an EH director, he was also treasurer of the Bay Area Restoration Council, and a member of the RGB’s science advisory committee.
He’s one of a too small group of academics who can be counted on to add his voice and energy to local environmental efforts, whether by letters, presentations to council, or more direct actions.
For example, Jim was the key organizer of the unprecedented joint letter of over 100 McMaster faculty that called for a full environmental assessment of the Red Hill Creek Expressway. He also did expert reviews of Red Hill consultant studies, joined campouts and protests, and was one of six individuals who volunteered with the ‘Doe family’ in the legal battle against the city’s injunction – braving lawsuit threats from the city that could have taken away his home.
At EH, among other volunteer activities, Jim has been the driving force behind the newly established Betty Blashill Environmental Prize that EH will be giving out annually.
Jim walks the walk in cutting his personal environmental footprint – or more precisely cycles nearly everywhere, all year round – weighing consciously the ecological impacts of each of his life decisions. He richly deserves to be recognized and emulated.
[Award winners from left: Back row: Alan Ernest, Warren Beacham, Audrey Gamble, Natasha Larocque, Alison Healing; Front row: Barb McKean, Jim Quinn, Christine Brown]
Teacher Keeps on Giving
He’s officially retired from teaching, but Richard Reble has certainly not stopped educating, and he’s probably contributing more to society now than when he was in the classroom. We gave Richard a special volunteer award at our annual general meeting in March for outstanding service to Environment Hamilton and the community at large.
Richard is a self-taught citizen expert on peak oil, a theory rapidly being confirmed as oil prices climb steeply as a result of an apparent inability to meet growing demand. For more than a year after his retirement, Richard wrote and circulated a weekly email newsletter on peak oil and its implications.
Early in 2007, he approached EH with a proposal to popularize Al Gore’s landmark climate film, “An Inconvenient Truth”. Since then he has organized and delivered more than 40 showings of the documentary – primarily to faith groups in the Hamilton area, and helped EH staff follow that up with a variety of climate change presentations including a one-day conference of group leaders.
In 2008 Richard has returned to the same groups, and others, with a different documentary. “A Crude Awakening” carefully and convincingly explains why the planet is facing an energy crisis – in addition to the climatic impacts of fossil fuel use – and what are the likely implications for our society as fuel prices climb ever higher.
He’s done twenty showings so far and has more booked in June and the fall. Contact us if you know of a group that would be interested in seeing this highly informative documentary and Richard’s well-informed commentary.
Richard also leads several nature hikes a week and gives freely of his time in other positive ways. Some of us used to refer to retirement as re-tiring – putting on a new set of tires. That doesn’t quite work when we’re trying to get people out of cars, but Richard nevertheless wonderfully illustrates the great things that can be achieved when you combine a passion for the public good and the extra free time after the pension kicks in.
Environment Hamilton would love to have more Richards. To help you get involved, we hold a volunteer night at our offices every Wednesday evening. Call us at 905-549-0900 to get more information on you can keep on giving.
HSR and Keith Neighborhood Marriage
The HSR and the Keith Neighbourhood just got hitched. The ‘wedding’ took place on Monday June 23 at the Eva Rothwell Centre (formerly Robert Land School) on Wentworth North. That was the first day of the new Wentworth 12 bus service that EH and the neighbourhood have worked to put in place for the last two years.
Our staff were on hand to ‘officiate’ at the nuptials and the bus will carried‘just married’ decorations for the rest of its first day. The marriage symbolizes the desire of EH, the Keith Neighbourhood and the HSR that the new route will be a permanent commitment between the residents and the public transit system.
The weekday service follows a simple rectangle route along Victoria, Burlington, Wentworth and Stinson streets, linking six east-west HSR lines to Hamilton General Hospital, the VON, Cathedral High School, and of course, the Keith Neighbourhood residents. Initial service is weekdays only from 6:45 to 9:00 am, and 2:20 to 7:15 in the afternoon.
Climate Change Champions launched
Our work to battle climate change continues with a new project, Climate Change Champions, which we'll be running with a first time collaboration with colleagues at Green Venture.
The Ontario Ministry of the Environment is providing just over $100,000 for the 18-month program through its Community Go Green Fund. This new project will prepare and deliver a tool-kit to support groups, businesses and individuals as they find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
We'll be challenging Hamilton organizations to develop their own 'Kyoto plan', setting reduction targets and tracking progress over the next year. The tool-kit will combine the existing climate change approaches of EH and Green Venture and add new ones.
EH welcomes back Julia Kollek as our co-ordinator for this project. Julia led the very successful Tonnes for Trees program and more recently managed last year's Trees Count in Dundas that has generated the very active Dundas Valley Tree Keepers group. She'll be working together with Jordan Fysh, Energy Co-ordinator at Green Venture.
If you, your workplace, faith or social group would like to take part, we'd love to hear from you! Please contact Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 905-627-5410.
More Progress in Cutting Industrial Emissions
In this case, the polluter is Poscor, a scrapyard operation located on Parkdale Avenue North. The company has been using oxypropane metal cutters in the open air and generating significant particulate emissions in the process.
The frustrating thing about this story is that the company was given an approval in 2006 from the Ministry of the Environment to operate these metal cutters in the open air. At the same time, other companies using the same cutters have been required to undertake all cutting activities indoors and with proper pollution controls.
We could not understand why MOE granted this permit to Poscor in this form! So, back in February, after lots of research and observation, we submitted an EBR application for review, asking that the Ministry revisit the air approvals it gave to Poscor– approvals which permit the outdoor metal cutting operation.
Not long after our application was submitted, we learned that Poscor had been bought out by Triple M Metal and that the new owner was proposing to stop the metal cutting operations at Parkdale and move all cutting operations indoors at a building located in a scrapyard on Strathearne Avenue North.
Soon after, a posting appeared on the EBR electronic registry, with a proposal from Triple M for approval of an air permit to allow the cutting operations at the Strathearne site. On the positive side, the proposal indicated that the company would install pollution controls so that any emissions from the cutting operations would be prevented from getting out into the atmosphere.
EH prepared and submitted formal comments on the new air permit application. Our review of the MOE file on the application led us to raise concerns that the proposed pollution control system was not rigorous enough. The levels of particulates and certain contaminants in the particulate were very close to the provincial limits.
We also used the opportunity to push for Triple M to take steps to mitigate dust problems at the Strathearne Avenue scrap yard. This stretch of Strathearne has become notorious for its dust problems. We have asked that MOE require the company to develop a comprehensive plan to control dust on-site and to prevent the drag-out of dirt and other debris that can contribute to dust problems on the street.
We also requested that MOE take away the approvals that exist at the Parkdale Avenue site, so that the company cannot continue to do any open air cutting there at any point in the future.
Meanwhile, in mid-May, we heard back from MOE on our application for review for the Parkdale facility. MOE has decided to undertake the review we requested, indicating that, in the interim, the Ministry has concerns about allowing the Parkdale facility to continue to operate the oxypropane cutters in the open air.
The Ministry referred to the risk of negative environmental impacts as justifying its decision. Our hope is that MOE moves swiftly to complete the review and stop the open air cutting and the emissions generated by this activity as quickly as possible.
Busy time for Dundas Valley Tree Keepers
It was time for the Dundas Valley Tree Keepers to finally present results of last summer's tree survey to the community. The volunteers - some of whom took part in last summer's Trees Count program - have been so busy putting on public education events, that they hadn't had time to reflect on the information they gathered last year.
At the end of May, the group hosted an event called "How are our Trees Doing?" The results proved interesting: nearly half of the trees surveyed were Maples, the majority being the non-native Norway Maple, considered to be a weed tree because it is fast-growing, invasive and inhibits the growth of native species.
The predominance of one species however has greater implications because if historic Dundas is hit with a disease that targets Maple trees, a large part of the urban canopy would be lost.
Other findings in the 92-page report included detailed information on the trees that were surveyed (in a section of Dundas that includes the Dundas Driving Park, and the historic area covered by Cross, Park, Sydenham, Albert, Queen, Alma, Elgin, Melville and Victoria Streets.) The inventory is designed and data interpreted by staff the University of Toronto Faculty of Forestry. They calculated that the value of the 1,169 trees surveyed was $3,851,379. This was based on replacement cost, size, species, location and current condition.
This figure does not include the important non-monetary role trees play, such as protecting homes from wind gusts, offering shade and home to urban wildlife – as well as the aesthetic pleasure people get from simply looking at them!
Some Trees Count results were posted on display at the talk so homeowners whose yards had been surveyed could check on details about their trees. The group is hoping to have copies of the report available to residents through the library and town hall in Dundas.
An exciting upcoming event will be the first Guided Heritage Landscape and House tour, led by two of the Tree Keepers – Ann Gillespie (a heritage building expert) and Bill Kennedy (well-known locally for his knowledge about trees).
This will be the first heritage tree and building walking tour ever! The walk will be on Sunday June 8 at 2pm, meeting at the parking lot of St Paul's Church, on Park Street in Dundas. Call 905-627-5410 for more information.
Keep Pedestrian Bridges
EH has challenged a consultants’ report that would eliminate the pedestrian bridge at Pearl Street and not replace one recently demolished at Poulette Street in the Kirkendall neighbourhood. The bridges cross the CP rail line that bisects the area. The only alternative crossings are at Dundurn, Locke and Queen.
The consultants balked at the $200,000 price tag for each new pedestrian bridge. We pointed to the $2 million recently spent on a vehicle bridge at MacNab Street located much closer to existing bridges than the proposed pedestrian facilities.
We also noted that the study analysis relied on an unrealistic walking speed of 6 kilometres an hour and took no account of the challenges facing seniors, the disabled and young families in getting to recreational facilities in the neighbourhood.
“The city’s Vision 2020 plan and the more recent GRIDS Principles emphasize the need to reduce car dependency and replace as many trips as possible with transit, cycling and walking,” stated the EH submission. “The city’s Public Health and Community Services Division is strongly encouraging residents to walk as much as possible to reduce obesity levels and improve their overall health.”
We also pointed to principles endorsed in the city’s master transportation plan adopted last year, and in provincial planning documents such as Places to Grow which advocates for the “creation of mixed-use, transit-supportive, pedestrian-friendly communities”.
Our submission also noted that “Hamilton has been talking about reducing car dependency since the early 1990s, but when ‘the rubber meets the road’ it always seems to turn out that the “commitment” goes no further than talk.”
As of June 6 we had not yet received a response to our comments.
Comments Improve Road Plans
In April, EH submitted comments on the city’s proposed extension of Frid Street to link the Kirkendall neighbourhood and Longwood Road. The new road anticipates the development of the McMaster Innovation Park.
We and others, including Transportation for Liveable Communities, questioned the lack of sidewalks and bike paths in the roadway plans. Our submission challenged the need for on-street parking and provided a detailed suggestion for replacing it with pedestrian and cycling amenities.
“We envision a research park where the majority of employees arrive on foot, bicycle or transit, and many live nearby in the Kirkendall and Westdale neighbourhoods,” stated the EH submission. “We urge you to remain true to this vision and the objectives of sustainability.”
The comments were well-received by city staff who informed us at the end of May that they have accepted many of our suggestions. The new plan includes bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides as well as a three metre boulevard to buffer pedestrians