The website homepage for McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. offers visitors a slideshow of company projects, but unbeknownst to clients, the demolition waste from these projects may have been illegally dumped, damaging local wetlands in rural Alberta to the tune of $1.85 million.
Court documents reveal that the case against McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. was far from open and shut, despite the fact that the company pled guilty to both knowingly operating a landfill in Strathcona County without registration, and altering a wetland without an approval. The two violations were contrary to Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and Water Act, respectively.
The Alberta court’s Agreed Statement of Facts from the illegal dumping trial reveals that Alberta Environment struggled to adapt to a new legislative licensing scheme. The court said the ministry failed to send proper notification about the new licensing to McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd., meaning the company was still operating under its original licence issued in 1991, which technically had expired.
The mix-up proved to be a mitigating factor for the Alberta court when it weighed possible penalties.
“The company’s initial position, that the permit under the Public Health Act was still in effect, has some merit,” says the Alberta court’s Agreed Statement of Facts.
The Agreed Statement of Facts suggests that, financially, McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. had a competitive advantage in its industry because of the unauthorized onsite landfill. Updating to the new licensing scheme meant costly compliance and engineering costs, although the licence itself cost only a few hundred dollars.
“Investigators learned in the course of inspections of other demolition companies in the Edmonton area, none had onsite landfills,” the Agreed Statement of Facts says. “The more typical practice was to use bins at the demolition site to separate waste from recyclables and to then haul the bins to commercial landfills.”
The company appeared to operate normally for five years under the licensing loophole. In 2009, the province ordered McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. to stop using the landfill, but a subsequent ministry investigation uncovered that the company continued to dispose of demolition waste at the site.
Following a series of registered complaints that McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. was operating without a proper licence, the company was eventually charged on August 24, 2011.
A provincial investigation revealed that the illegal dumping occurred on or between May 5, 2009 and May 10, 2010 on a 75-acre piece of relatively flat land.
McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. completed its remediation of the disturbed wetland in spring 2010 and, more than one year later, it hired a consultant to conduct the required Phase II site assessment for the new licence.
But it wasn’t that simple.
The Agreed Statement of Facts says that “after review of the consultant’s second report, Alberta Environment determined that the site was not geologically suitable for a landfill.”
Eventually, the court fined McColman & Sons Demolition Ltd. $20,000, including a victim surcharge, for operating the unauthorized landfill that was now never to continue, licence or not.
“…while the more typical fine for such an activity [illegal dumping] would be in the range of $100,000, the company has provided the Crown with its financial records, and given the cost to remediate the lands and restore the environment, the Crown is content that an additional fine of $20,000 (inclusive of victim fine surcharge) would compensate the citizens of Alberta for the cost of the investigation, yet not put the company out of business,” says the Agreed Statement of Facts.
The province estimates the cost of remediating and monitoring the lands to be $1.85 million.
The Alberta court also ordered the company to remove all waste from the site and address any adverse environmental consequences by January 1, 2015. Despite the finding that the site was unsuitable for a landfill, a three-year stop order was issued to prevent the company from using the lands as a landfill.
—–This article was orginally published Feb. 11, 2013 in the newsletter for EHScompliance.ca—–