Manitoba

St. Boniface metal scrapper ordered to cease some operations over zoning compliance

A St. Boniface metal recycler that’s been the target of complaints over noise and air pollution from neighbours for years has been ordered to halt parts of its operation after the province found it was doing work outside its zoning restrictions.

Residents' association says regulation process needs to be strengthened

Rakowski Cartage & Wrecking Ltd. has been ordered to cease all scrap metal processing and auto wrecking at their facility at 454 Archibald Street until the company comes into compliance with City of Winnipeg zoning. (Radio-Canada)

A St. Boniface metal recycler that's been the target of complaints over noise and air pollution from neighbours for years has been ordered to halt parts of its operation after the province found it was doing work outside its zoning restrictions.

In a letter to Rakowski Cartage & Wrecking Ltd. dated July 16, Manitoba Sustainable Development told the company to cease all scrap metal processing and auto wrecking at their facility at 454 Archibald Street until it comes into compliance with City of Winnipeg zoning by-laws.

Failure to stop the work may result in prosecution, according to the letter.

While the move is seen as a win for the South St. Boniface Residents' Association (SSBRA), which has been asking government to better regulate Rakowski and other businesses in the Mission Industrial Park, the group's vice-president Teresa Cwik says the regulation process is flawed.

That's because Rakowski had been allowed to continue doing metal scrapping and auto wrecking — despite not having a environmental licence — for months while they started applying for the proper licensing with the province.

It was only during that process the province noticed Rakowski hadn't been complying with city zoning, and took the action to shut them down.

Teresa Cwik says she worries about the potential health risks of contaminants in soil, air. (CBC News)

"They just let it slide," Cwik told CBC Thursday. "It makes all the residents feel that the government isn't listening to us so who are they looking out for?

"Obviously it's not for the health and safety of citizens in our area."

According to Manitoba's Minister of Sustainable Development, the province first became aware that Rakowski was doing work without an environmental licence when inspectors were sent to the facility to investigate complaints from neighbours in October 2017.

"We asked them to apply," said Rochelle Squires, who wouldn't say whether or not she thought the company had knowingly been flouting the province's environmental regulations.

"If you're going to be doing this work, using a plasma torch and other really technical equipment, and you're going to be shredding and doing this other stuff that we know puts pollutants in the air…you must have an environment act licence."

Contaminated soil

Neighbours of the industrial park have for years complained of noise, smells and air pollution they say come from businesses located in the park.

Those complaints led researchers from the University of Manitoba to take soil samples from more than 100 residential properties, parks, ditches and streams in the areas bordering Mission Industrial Park last summer.

The results of the study, released earlier this month, found yards and gardens of at least 24 properties tested positive for heavy metal contamination that exceeds national guidelines.

Residents in St. Boniface are wondering whether their garden-grown veggies are safe to eat after testing showed high levels of lead, copper, zinc and cadmium in their soil. 2:22

At one home, the soil sample was found to have 204 milligrams of lead per kilogram of soil.

The acceptable level of lead according to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines for soil quality is 140 milligrams per kilogram.

The results led to a promise from the province to install a mobile air monitoring station near the industrial park to test for air quality later this summer.

Cwik says she thinks the contaminated soil is a result of heavy metals being released into the air as a dust created by the scrap metal processing happening at the industrial park.

"We have smells, we have noise and we have stuff that we're breathing in … our health is at stake."

Zoning issue

The province says it will continue to put a hold on Rakowski's environmental licence application process until the zoning issues are sorted out with the city.

The property is currently zoned M2 which the city says allows for light manufacturing, processing, service, storage, wholesale and distribution operations, with some limited outside operations and storage.

Soil samples and tomatoes are collected from a yard on Giroux Street in Winnipeg's St. Boniface neighbourhood. (CBC)

The province says the facility should be zoned M3, which permits industrial uses that create a nuisance that may extend beyond the property such as noise, smoke and odours.

Wrecking and salvage yards are only allowed in M3 zoning districts, according to the the city's manager of corporate communications, David Driedger.

The city told CBC News it has not received a rezoning application from Rakowski and Rakowski did not respond to requests for interviews.