up in choke

The main demolition of the historic Collis Tannery at 45 Tyler Street appears to be complete.

What makes the demolition of this structure different than most other industrial sites in Aurora is that the site is a nasty brownfield ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brownfield_land ) contaminated due to the large amounts of toxic chemicals used on the site during its operations.

I wasn’t familiar with the leather tannery process, if you aren’t you can check it out here:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the incidence of leukemia among residents in an area near one tannery in Kentucky was five times the U.S. average.

Arsenic, a common tannery chemical, has long been associated with lung cancer in workers who are exposed to it on a regular basis. Studies of leather-tannery workers in Sweden and Italy found cancer risks “between 20% and 50% above [those] expected.”

More details can be found in this post here:

Chromium pollution from tannery operations is so horrible that it was listed among the top 10 toxic pollution problems of 2011 here: http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/88

Collis Leather was a significant operation in its day. Here are some rarely seen shots of the tannery:

* archival photos provided by local historian David Heard, copyright 2014

Regardless of the numerous requests by residents over the years no satisfactory report on the environmental impact of Collis’ operations in Aurora for over 75 years has been done.
I have made an effort to include links to all the newspaper articles I could find, along with some notable highlights below:

April 1919 : Collis to increase by 1/3

August 1943 : Tannery constructs waste disposal plant

February 1944 : Effluent plant on property

June 1946 : Stream diverted

August 1946 : 3 story addition

April 1948 : Collis brief to Aurora Council

August 1949 : Petition to end odor

September 1949 : Collis record shows attempts to end odor

In this article it says a farm was purchased in 1946 on Wellington St. at Snowball, far away from anybody whom they thought could object to their plan which was to haul the sludge to this farm.

But people did object and this effort was shut down.

December 1949 : Collis odor becomes an election issue

May 1950 : Deputation at Witchurch Council raises issue of Collis participating in illegal dumping in Witchurch:

August 1957 : Collis cause of bad odor

This same year Collis drilled a new well upstream from a municipal well. The impact on the town’s watercourse is docuemented in this 1960’s piece here:

November 1971 : Industrial polluters

This one is interesting as it specifically speaks to council strictly enforcing the town’s industrial waste bylaw with respect to chromium. I wonder how that strict enforcement was carried out, and what records the town has.

Fast forward 30 years and The Auroran weighs in on the environmental issue last decade to say that there are lots of questions arriving from the Ministry of Environment’s involvement but no answers:

June 2004 – pages 3 & 16:

June 2004 – pages 6 – 12:

August 2006 – page 7:

December 2007 – page 17:

When the tenants of the property were booted by Maple Leaf in preparation for sale the Auroran reported on the property again in July of 2013:

and again September 2013 – pg 7

In a February 6th article from last year (found on pg 14) we were told a formal application would be submitted sometime in the spring or summer:

It’s over a year later and the Town’s planning manager confirmed no site plan application has been made for the property.

The last we heard in The Auroran was this October 1st piece regarding discussion surrounding the councils approval of demolition: http://www.newspapers-online.com/auroran/?p=8312

With all the back-story established it is this Aurora piece I want to explore further as it pertains to environmental remediation and overall community safety.

Clr. Humfreys is quoted as saying:
“In this case, the developer is great at what they do from an environmental perspective, taking brown space and making it safe, making it a great area moving forward”

Clr. Able also weighed in:
“I am just thrilled we have a developer that is an expert on brownfield coming to our Town to do a fantastic thing on the tannery”

Both sat on the town’s Heritage Advisory Committee where during its September 8th meeting confirmation was given that the developer was committed to doing truck wash-downs and soil screens during the demolition as per requests of neighbors.

Here is a short audio clip extracted that confirms this:

Having seen many photos during the stages of demolition there is little evidence I can see that this commitment has been upheld. In addition to the main photograph showing plumes of dust here are a few others:

* color photos provided by local photograpgher Peter Cameron, copyright 2014

Back on January 5th I contacted Clr. Abel with a request that I be provided with the written procedure that is being adhered to onsite and any records/logs of the truck traffic from the site complete with photo evidence of wash downs as these would go a long way to ease concerns of disturbing a documented brownfield site.

Clr. Abel very promptly contacted the developer directly and informed me a report would be returned shortly.

After receiving weeks and weeks of delay and excuses returned by the developer but no report I contacted town staff.

Here is what I now understand:

– The developer will provide details of their activities on the site, when they feel like it.
– The developer is able to re-mediate the site fully without having a site plan application.
– Oversight of this remediation is to be done by the Ministry of The Environment.

Let’s contrast this with Mayor Dawe’s assessment:

“No municipality would want a brownfield in their Town and it is their “obligation” to do something about it.”

Okay, so exactly what is The Town doing about monitoring these obligations and ensuring compliance?

If the town is trying to sell themselves as “providing an exceptional quality of life for all” it may be a better use of bylaw services to work in conjunction with the M.O.E. and monitor this site than say having them staked-out at town park to issue parking tickets.

It may also be in the town’s interest to use its $500,000+ communication budget to keep residents up to date on this project.

The town may have been clueless when they recently purchased a federally contaminated site at town park, but they can’t claim ignorance here.

Is council really working together to get things done? or are they complacent in turning a blind eye on how others get things done?

Watts on your mind?

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