The city is trying to sell a building full of toxic waste barrels in a bid to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes over the last few years.

Hundreds of barrels filled with toxic waste were found hidden behind a fake wall at 350 Wentworth St. N. in April of 2013.

Their cleanup is a complicated case with many moving parts, appeals, and a dead man – and now, the city is hoping the sale for back taxes could help kick start the cleanup process and start generating some municipal revenue.  

"It really is a buyer beware situation," said Larry Friday, the city's director of taxation.

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The toxic barrels found at the site were piled behind a false wall. (Ministry of Environment)

That would be a bit of an understatement, as the Ministry of Environment has ordered that past owners of the building as far back as the 1980s clean up the site. The owners have been appealing that order to the Environmental Review Tribunal, and say the onus isn't on them.

The tax sale notice posted on the city's website lists "possible outstanding ministry of environment and municipal work orders." The notice lists the property as worth $306,750 commercially and $535,250 if used industrially.

The city is seeking a minimum tender amount of $282,519 to buy the site. The city doesn't own the property but it is able to put a property up for tax sale once it is in arrears for three years.

Would anyone actually buy this building?

It may seem unlikely that anyone would want to buy a property so fraught with environmental issues, but Friday says that since the same building was sold twice in the last 10 years, "anything is possible."

"Two owners came in an purchased it when it was in worse shape than it's in right now, to be honest," he said. No one has called to inquire about the property yet.

So if someone new buys the property, does the onus to clean it up fall to them? Not quite, says ministry spokesperson Jennifer Hall.

"A new owner would be added to the list of current or past owners who had management or control of the site and therefore responsible for the cleanup," she wrote in an email. That means a new owner isn't just buying the building – they're buying a stake in a complicated legal case and possibly a cleanup order.

Cleanup amount undetermined

Hall couldn't say how much it would cost to clean up the site at this point. "The cost of doing so is not outlined in the order and falls to the responsible parties," she said.

Current owner Harry Tamber did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Tamber was the one who alerted the ministry to the barrels, which lead to this cleanup order.

He told CBC Hamilton in a previous interview that the onus for cleaning up the waste shouldn't be on him as he isn't responsible for leaving it there.

The appeals process over the Ministry's cleanup order resumes in June. "In the meantime, attempts at a mediated settlement will continue," Hall said.

adam.carter@cbc.ca | @AdamCarterCBC