Grease-trap dispute shutters café
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/08/2016 (2254 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A six-year-old tangle of municipal red tape has led to the closure of a Wolseley small business.
Fearing additional fines from city inspectors over the lack of a grease trap in his Neighbourhood Bookstore and Café, owner Bill Fugler shut the doors Monday after 11 years in business.
Fugler said he’s already facing $12,500 in fines, court costs and renovation estimates — “that’s more than I make in half a year” — over a bylaw dispute that has seen him object in court to the city’s grease-trap requirement for his small café and used bookstore. The business was set to undergo another inspection this week, and Fugler said rather than be slapped with more fines he can’t afford, he decided to shut down, putting 10 people out of work.
But it’s not just about the money. Fugler said many of his friends have offered to pitch in toward the installation of a grease trap, which he expects would cost between $4,000 and $6,000, but he’s refused on principle, likening installing a grease trap to paying ransom.
“I don’t even think I’m taking a stand. I think I’m behaving rationally and the city’s behaving irrationally,” he said.
“It feels like if I do this (and install the grease trap), I’m encouraging behaviour which is wrong.”
Under the city’s sewer bylaw, intended to ease the burden on Winnipeg’s wastewater system, grease traps must be connected to each kitchen sink and dishwasher waste pipe in a food-service establishment, unless that establishment has been granted an exemption.
Since he was first informed he needed a grease trap six years ago, Fugler said he’s applied for an exemption three times to no avail. The Westminster Avenue café serves coffee and sandwiches — it doesn’t have a fryer, a stove or a microwave — yet Fugler said city officials have repeatedly told him he needs a grease trap even though other, larger restaurants have been granted exemptions under the bylaw.
Among the restaurants that have been granted exemptions, according to a list obtained by Fugler’s lawyer, are establishments that discharge their sewage into stations that are not controlled by the city, including sewage lift stations owned and operated by Shindico.
A city spokesperson could not be reached Monday, but department officials have previously stated in other media reports that they can’t comment on the case while it is before the court.
His court battle is delayed, Fugler said, because the prosecution has alleged that his lawyer is in a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, Fugler has encouraged his clientele — many of whom are devoted regulars — to contact Daniel McIntyre ward councillor Cindy Gilroy to push the city to grant him an exemption. Backed by a 5,000-signature petition and the goodwill of his customers, one of whom even immortalized the saga in a song called Grease Trap Talking Blues, Fugler said he’ll keep fighting.
“I’ve got two jobs now. One is to fight this and the other is to run my store. And then in the little bit of time left over, I’m a single dad,” Fugler said.
“I don’t think we’re closing the store thinking, ‘oh, we’re never reopening again.’ I think we’re closing the store until somebody looks at this and does the math,” he said, adding if he’s allowed to submit another exemption application, “I’m pretty sure we’re going to win.”
But Fugler said his is not the only small business in the community hurt by bureaucracy.
“My advice is, either you have tons and tons of money and you’re willing to do whatever they say, or you don’t open a business in the city of Winnipeg.”
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, August 1, 2016 2:41 PM CDT: Updates with exemption information.
Updated on Monday, August 1, 2016 5:15 PM CDT: update, minor edits