Large piles of soil can be seen at the Waterdown Garden Supplies Ltd. property on Highway 5 in Troy. – Steve Buist
The trucks arrive day and night, rumbling along the Fifth Concession in Flamborough with untreated dirt from construction projects to dump onto area properties.
Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge say residents claim that up to 200 such trucks a day are rolling along rural roads.
“These roads are not built for that truck traffic,” said Partridge.
Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who represents Troy that includes one of the chronic offenders of illegal dumping — Waterdown Garden Supplies off Highway 5 — calls the illegal dumping “chronic” and estimates 600 trucks per day are rolling through the area, including along Trinity Road in Ancaster.
Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark says the issue impacts not just Flamborough, but across the rural areas of Hamilton, including in upper Stoney Creek.
“It has been an ongoing issue,” he said. “We have property owners flaunting the rules.”
Municipal, provincial and even federal politicians have called on each level of government to tighten rules for the illegal dumping after years of turning a blind eye to the problem.
Flamborough-Glanbrook Conservative MP David Sweet even got into the issue earlier this year calling on the RCMP to intervene, especially against Waterdown Gardens Supplies Ltd.
He said that neighbourhoods have long complained about soil dumping at the property, a composting facility in Troy. The owners have faced numerous environment fines over the years; in 2008, the company was fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to violations under the Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act.
Conservation authorities, rural residents and councillors say the fill comes from large condominium and residential construction sites in the Greater Toronto Area. Brokers arrange trucks to take loads of the soil from Toronto to willing rural Hamilton properties, where landowners are paid to have it spread on their land.
But farmers in Hamilton say that nothing will grow in the soil, which is untested and untreated.
In 2016, the provincial government did introduce tougher rules on illegal dumping, but local officials say it still didn’t stop the practice.
In early May, Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly announced that part of the province’s Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan would include tougher restrictions on illegal soil dumping. She said at the time that the change will reduce the risk of contaminated soil being mismanaged, and will allow for the redevelopment of historically contaminated sites and putting vacant lands back to use.
“The proposed changes will not only prevent illegal dumping in Flamborough, but also illegal dumping in other rural areas across the province,” she stated.
They include forcing developers to register how they would get rid of the dirt and doubling fines to $200,000 for any environmental infraction. The government recently completed its public comment period on the proposed bill.
The city’s current bylaw lays out a maximum fine of $50,000 for corporations — but residents such as former Flamborough councillor Bill Hume, who operates Gord’s Service Centre at Peter’s Corners, have watched in frustration over the years as trucks continue to dump fill at Waterdown Gardens.
Robert Pasuta, the former Flamborough councillor, has been fighting against the illegal dumping for the last six years. He has seen the convoy of trucks invade his community, and residents have been complaining to him for the city to do something to stop it.
He was in the audience this spring at an agricultural and rural affairs subcommittee meeting as Ferguson and the city’s bylaw officials introduced a proposed site alteration bylaw to stop the illegal dumping. The members, composed of farmers and rural residents, poured over the bylaw that city officials believed was enough to stop the dumping.
The proposed revised bylaw would force property owners to get a permit, at a cost of $2,700, before they accept any fill. The intent of the bylaw is to stop the dumping of commercial fill, but to allow farmers who need top soil to still allow it to be dumped on their property.
“We think it is pretty strong,” said Carlo Ammendolia, development co-ordinator for the city. “The only way to issue a permit is to enhance the property.”
He said that the bylaw doesn’t establish a minimum or maximum number of truckloads of fill, but if officials witness a convoy of trucks it will trigger the bylaw, he said.
However, it became apparent that the bylaw wasn’t as strong as city officials believed.
First, farmer and chair of the committee, Drew Spoelstra, was concerned that there was no appeal process if a permit is denied.
“Good cases could get turned down,” he said.
Hume also found a glaring omission in the bylaw: it didn’t apply to “fill.” In that case, he said, the owners of Waterdown Gardens and other similar property owners would be able to continue to accept the Toronto-generated dirt.
“Fill is not topsoil,” he said. “Top soil is not the problem. You can get fill anywhere. It grows nothing.”
A few of the members also questioned the reasoning behind the $2,700 permit fee, which they saw as onerous for legitimate farmers who need to have some top soil on their property.
“There will be some concern,” said Spoelstra. “You are penalizing people who are putting food on our table.”
There was a suggestion to waive the fee — which is established as a cost-recovery mechanism — but any decision like that must be approved by the city’s senior administration staff, said officials. There was also some consensus that any fee would be graduated and that the permit would be in effect for two years.
After another meeting, bylaw officials revised their proposed site alteration bylaw to accommodate the suggestions the committee members made.
Councillors in June approved the draft proposal, which is currently in the hands of city staff; it is expected the bylaw could be finalized later this year.
Will the bylaw actually do anything? Pasuta is cautiously hopeful, even as the trucks continue to roll along Flamborough roads dumping the untested material on properties.
“This has been a slow process to get to the bylaw,” he said. “I hope something comes from it.”
Bill Hume echoed the sentiment from all farmers that the city and province have an obligation to stop the illegal dumping that is being generated from urban areas, most notably Toronto.
“We don’t want the c–p,” he said. “At the end of the day, we just want to protect the farm.”