Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Speedway International facing charges over blaze

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Numerous charges have been laid following last year’s spectacular blaze at Speedway International in St. Boniface.

The biofuels manufacturer and its director, Royce Rostecki, have been hit with 16 alleged offences stemming from the Oct. 1 incident which created a fireball visible for kilometres, forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents and caused $15 million worth of damage.

The city confirmed the following charges to the Free Press:

The Winnipeg Building By-Law 4555/87

- Article 12.2: unlawfully permitting all or parts of the building or structures located on the premises to be in an unsafe condition

- Article 15.1.1: unlawfully occupying/using a building or a part thereof without first obtaining the required Building Occupancy Permit

- Article unlawfully changing the occupancy of the premises without first obtaining the required Building Occupancy Permit

The City of Winnipeg Fire Prevention By-Law, No. 150/2004

- S. 19.2: failing to obtain consent of the Chief of the Fire Paramedic Service and a permit to install storage tanks containing flammable liquids

- S. 3(1) [adopting s. 4.3.7. of Division B of the Manitoba Fire Code]: failing to provide secondary containment for a stationary rail car used as an above ground flammable liquid storage tank

- S. 3(1) [adopting sentence of Division B of the Manitoba Fire Code]: failing to provide sufficient distance between a stationary rail car above ground storage tank and a building

- S. 3(1) [adopting Article of Division B of the Manitoba Fire Code]: failing to provide fencing for flammable liquid unloading facilities

- S. 3(1) [adopting Clause and Sentence of Division B of the Manitoba Fire Code]: storing flammable liquids in excess of maximum quantities permitted

None of the allegations have been proven and they are presumed innocent.

Following the fire, the city and province squabbled over the disclosure and inspection of flammable materials that ignited. 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 WFPS 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.

Speedway International released a statement at the time saying they 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 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.

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," he said.

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.

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