Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Debate flares over St. B blaze

Questions on biofuel firm's permit, inspections raised

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Weeks after firefighters extinguished a spectacular blaze at Speedway International, questions continue to smoulder about volatile chemicals stored at the St. Boniface industrial site.

The biofuels manufacturer, the city and the province squabbled Tuesday over the disclosure and inspection of flammable materials that ignited Oct. 1, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of St. Boniface residents, creating a fireball visible for kilometres and causing $15 million worth of damage. The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service said Tuesday Speedway International failed to obtain a permit to produce biodiesel on its property. In 2000, the company was granted an occupancy permit to produce windshield-wiper fluid and should have informed the city of any change to that permit, said acting deputy chief Bill Clark, who's in charge of fire operations for the fire-paramedic service.

"They did not achieve a permit for production for biofuel," said Clark, adding the site was last inspected in 2001 in response to a complaint. No further inspections were conducted because it is up to property owners to disclose any changes to the intended use of their land.

But Speedway International said in a statement the firm made every effort to obtain all the permits it needed to expand its business into biodiesel manufacturing. The company submitted architectural and engineering drawings to the city in 2008 as part of requested changes to its occupancy permit, according to a statement issued by a Vancouver public-relations firm.

"After filing the change in occupancy paperwork and making the required operational changes, Speedway International operated under the assumption that it had fulfilled its requirements with the city and province," the firm said in its statement.

Provincial fire investigators say spontaneous combustion led to the Oct. 1 fire at the site, which had a provincial environmental licence to manufacture biodiesel. Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship confirmed it did not issue a permit to store chemicals at the site, as Speedway International fell below a 5,000-litre regulatory threshold. Instead, the manufacturer stored biodiesel and methanol in 200-litre drums. The night of the fire, a 75,000-litre tanker truck full of methanol also exploded.

In the days after the fire, Progressive Conservative MLA Ian Wishart asked the NDP government to review fuel-storage regulations to ensure biodiesel plants are subject to the same rules as petrochemical plants.

Politicians got back into the debate Tuesday when Tory conservation critic Larry Maguire said the communication breakdown between the city and province led to Speedway's failure to obtain a provincial permit to store biofuel, leading to the absence of inspections and a proper fire-safety plan. Maguire said the province took credit for setting up the business, which has received $779,000 in provincial subsidies, but didn't enforce the law.

"To not have had an inspection in over 10 years in this particular location is not acceptable."

Labour Minister Jennifer Howard, responsible for the fire commissioner's office, tossed the hot potato back at the city. "The responsibility for the enforcement of the fire code rests with the municipality. They have jurisdiction. They also have responsibility for zoning."

Howard said her department has asked the city to advise whether regulations should be updated to allow more frequent fire inspections.

St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said Tuesday he will ask for a report into what transpired at Speedway International and to clarify responsibility for inspecting industrial plants.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 A3

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