December 8, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
A civic report ordered after the the massive Speedway International fire a year ago suggests industries in St. Boniface are avoiding provincial licensing and inspections and probably breaking city bylaws.
The 29-page report was intended to develop options for isolating dangerous industries from residential neighbourhoods -- but it offers no concrete proposals.
The report was ordered by St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal to devise ways to protect residents, but it repeatedly concedes little can currently be done to isolate potentially dangerous industries adjacent to residential areas.
"Existing businesses may continue as they are indefinitely, with legal non-conforming rights," the administration report states.
It suggested there is only one way to deal immediately with such industries -- offer incentives to relocate.
"I am very disappointed it has taken a year to arrive at the same recommendation I suggested 12 months earlier," Vandal said in an email to the Free Press. "I would have expected a critical path ensuring that this never repeats itself."
The report will be presented to the property and development committee on Tuesday.
It found the province has licensed 16 heavy industries under the Environment Act and the city identified 39 industries in the Mission Industrial Neighbourhood (MIN), where Speedway International is located, as 'flammable/high-hazard occupancy.'
The report notes these industries can avoid provincial inspections by storing hazardous materials in rail cars on their property. Rail lines are federally regulated.
"The implication is that some operations will avoid provincial licensing and scrutiny by storing and accessing hazardous materials (e.g., petroleum) directly from rail-car tankers parked on their property," the report states.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner is finalizing a review of municipal and provincial inspection procedures as a result of the Speedway fire.
A provincial spokesman said the intent of provincial licensing is to mitigate environmental risks, not prevent fires.
The fire commissioner's office, in consultation with officials in Winnipeg, Brandon and Portage la Prairie, is finalizing a report recommending changes to mitigate the risk of these types of incidents in the future.
The spokesman said the report recommends, among other things, regular inspections of industrial sites such as Speedway International.
The spokesman said rail lines are federally regulated, so the government has begun talking with Ottawa and other provinces about improving rail-line safety.
The Mission Industrial Neighbourhood is a mixed commercial and industrial zone of 380.4 hectares bounded by Lagimodiere Boulevard to the east, Marion Street to the south, Mission Street to the north, and Archibald Street/Seine River to the west.
The report found Speedway International had 16 bylaw infractions but concludes the city doesn't know whether other industries in the area also have violations. "It is not unreasonable to assume that (Speedway International) is not an isolated case and that there are many other properties in contravention of city bylaws," the report states.
Vandal said that's just saying the obvious, and the city needs improved inspections of industries.
"I am no clearer today than one year ago as to which level of government is responsible for monitoring and inspections," he said. "Clearly, the monitoring and inspection of Speedway was non-existent."
Vandal told reporters earlier this week the report would outline how heavy industries that require environmental permits to operate could be isolated over time from residential neighbourhoods.
The report states the only practical solution is to create new industrial zones on the city's outskirts and restrict new industries to those locations. Nothing can be done in the short term, it says.
Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, said the report's recommendations were obvious 12 months ago, adding it doesn't solve the problem of dangerous industries adjacent to residential areas.
"We could have made those recommendations in two seconds 12 months ago," Forrest said. "It doesn't change the fact that that area of St. Boniface is the most dangerous area to fight a fire because of the concentration of large, hazardous, industrial users."
Changing zoning regulations or even rezoning existing industrial areas to eliminate potentially dangerous industries offers no solution for adjacent residential neighbourhoods today.
"Although the suggested changes... can help reduce land-use conflicts between manufacturing and residentially zoned properties, the changes will only impact new development," the report says. "Non-conforming rights will persist for existing developed manufacturing properties."
The report repeatedly says even if the rules were changed, existing industries would be allowed to operate as they are until they either close, relocate or rebuild. It says industrial areas could be re-zoned from heavy manufacturing to general manufacturing, which would eliminate outdoor storage of hazardous material. However, it notes existing industries could continue such storage as a legal non-conforming use.
Highlights of the Mission Industrial Neighbourhood Zoning Review
Nothing can be done to alter the operations of legally operated, large, hazardous industries.
Changes in zoning and bylaw regulations will only affect new industries, or existing industries if they are required to rebuild.
In future, hazardous industries should be located on the fringes of the community, with buffer zones to ensure no encroachment by future residential neighbourhoods.
An immediate solution to protect residential neighbourhoods from existing industries is to offer financial incentives for the industries to move.
Many existing industries in the area are likely avoiding provincial licensing and inspections because they are taking advantage of regulations that exempt them. -- The City of Winnipeg needs to improve its inspection process to ensure heavy industries are complying with zoning regulations.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2013 A15