Home is where the hazardous waste is

Storing hazardous waste in the middle of a residential neighbourhood is A-OK, according to the Yukon's Environment Department. As long as you have a permit. And the residents at 15 Maple Street, in Porter Creek, have one.

Storing hazardous waste in the middle of a residential neighbourhood is A-OK, according to the Yukon’s Environment Department.

As long as you have a permit.

And the residents at 15 Maple Street, in Porter Creek, have one.

It was issued by Environment officials.

Trouble is, Whitehorse is not OK with hazardous waste piling up in its residential neighbourhoods.

Neither are the neighbours.

Doug Rutherford, who lives across the street from the residence-cum-hazardous waste storage site, is sick of looking out his window and seeing wrecked cars, tractor-trailers, old batteries, propane tanks and scrap metal.

Another neighbour, next-door to the rogue residence, has complained of oil spills.

When Rutherford took the issue to council in 2009, the city manager told him it can take up to 10 years to have the property cleaned up, he said.

This year, with the property still resembling a junk yard, Rutherford tried his luck at the Department of Environment.

“I contacted the office of the minister to determine if the operation was liable to inspection, as it appeared that there were hazardous wastes on the property,” said Rutherford.

The response floored him.

The minister’s executive assistant said it was OK for there to be hazardous waste stored on the property because he had a permit, said Rutherford.

“The permit had been issued with no public hearing or notification,” he added.

In addition, there are no provisions for suspending a hazardous waste storage permit, even though it was issued in a residential area, said Rutherford.

“The territory seems to not require checking the appropriate nature of the site as part of the permitting process,” he said.

City bylaw manager Dave Pruden is equally baffled.

“I don’t know why YTG issued that permit,” he said.

“We’ve asked them not to issue those permits in residential areas.”

The city has been battling with the property owner and the tenant of 15 Maple since 2009.

“We’ve been trying to get them to clean up their property,” said Pruden.

“They’ve been convicted in court and have various court orders they do not abide by.”

Over the last year, the city has finished drafting up final documentation to force the owner and tenant to clean up the property.

Trouble is, the city can’t find them.

“We’ve been looking for them for about a year,” said Pruden.

The renter was in BC. And the owner, who is a relative of the renter, was in Alberta, the US, Whitehorse, then back in Alberta, he said.

“We can’t hammer down where they are,” said Pruden. “We always seem to be a couple steps behind them.”

If the city doesn’t find the tenant and owner in the next few weeks, it’s going to go in and clean up the property itself, said Pruden.

“Even though YTG issued them a hazardous waste permit, it doesn’t mean they can do that – it’s against the zoning bylaw.”

At the same time, “The city can’t supersede YTG,” added Pruden.

In the past, hazardous-waste permit applications were not formally assessed for compliance with city zoning regulations, wrote Environment spokesman Dennis Senger in an email.

“Environment staff have no authority to interpret or enforce such regulations,” he said.

But now, things have changed.

“Our internal procedures have now been modified so that we will seek the input of the appropriate zoning officials when processing an application for a permit in a residential zone,” wrote Senger.

Also, just because a resident has a permit doesn’t mean they don’t have to comply with all other applicable laws or bylaws, he wrote.

And other agencies, including the city, “are still able to enforce their laws/bylaws as per their normal procedures regardless of whether an Environment Act permit is in place.”

Cancelling a permit is not easy, wrote Senger.

“This involves allowing the permittee to tell their side of the story before a decision is made. This process takes time; there are no shortcuts.

“This is necessary in order to protect permittees; otherwise, government officials could potentially suspend or cancel a permit without knowing all the facts.”

The city’s next step is to send a registered letter to the owner and renter.

“They will have 15 days to dispute it, then we will go in and clean it up,” said Pruden.

Until that happens, Rutherford prefers to remain “blissfully ignorant” of the hazardous waste leaking into the soil in his neighbourhood.

Contact Genesee Keevil at