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Kings County C&D disposal site operator charged following 2016 fire changes pleas

Firefighters attack a challenging debris fire on North River Road.
Firefighters attack a challenging debris fire on North River Road in March 2016. - Art Hamilton Photo

KENTVILLE, NS - The operator of a waste transfer station and a construction and demolition debris disposal site charged following a fire at his North River Road property in March 2016 has changed his pleas to guilty on three counts.

In May 2017, owner Derrick Shaffer had pleaded not guilty to all charges against Shaffer Enterprises, the construction and demolition debris (C&D) disposal site, and a Nova Scotia numbered company, the waste transfer station that he operates with his wife Barbara. The matters were adjourned to Jan. 29 for trial.

Prior to the scheduled trial, Shaffer changed his pleas to guilty to two charges against Shaffer Enterprises: being responsible for burning designated material without written authorization and contravening a term of condition of an approval.

Shaffer also changed his plea to guilty to one count against the numbered company of contravening a term or condition of an approval.

A fire at the North River Road property that is the location of both the transfer station and the disposal site broke out on March 22, 2016, and burned for several days. The blaze led to Environment Canada issuing an air quality warning for Kings County. The Kentville Fire Department declared the blaze extinguished on March 27, 2016.

As the sentencing hearing began on Jan. 29, Crown prosecutor Robert Morrison called Department of Environment inspector Jacquelyn Burneau to testify. A sentencing report she prepared was entered as an exhibit.

Burneau said she had received a phone call from Shaffer on March 22, 2016, to advise her of the fire. The next morning, she received calls from Shaffer and the Kentville Fire Department requesting her presence at the facilities.

Burneau said the fire involved a large cell, a designated area for C&D materials to be brought in for disposal. She said the cell contained a pile of debris measuring 80 feet high.

Burneau said it wasn’t safe to approach the pile too closely because of the fire but she took photos and made observations. There was plastic, rubber and tires burning. She couldn’t say for certain if there were asphalt shingles in the fire but they were at the site.

Burneau said all loads of debris were to be inspected and sorted to ensure that municipal solid waste wasn’t going in the cells.

“That process was not being done adequately to keep the non-C&D materials out of the cell,” she said.

Burneau testified that there was municipal solid waste in the cells that was not permitted, including recyclables, plastics, metals, tires, mattresses, textiles, household garbage and paper. The transfer station could accept items such as municipal recyclables if these materials were taken to the appropriate facility within 60 days.

She said there were piles of miscellaneous debris all over the 50-acre-plus property, even old school buses filled with various materials, one with paint cans. There were also materials being stored on adjacent Crown land.

The approval for the C&D site includes annual capping of cells with clay, concrete or other material that precipitation couldn’t permeate. This would help suppress fire and help prevent ground or surface water contamination. Burneau said the annual capping was not done.

Burneau testified that as part of an emergency response plan for the C&D disposal facility, there was supposed to be an approximately 6,000-gallon tank of water or other fire retardant on site but it wasn’t there. She was advised in a caution statement with an employee that the tank had frozen and was at Shaffer’s salvage yard on Highway 12.

She testified that there are inconsistencies between the site plan submitted to the Department of Environment as part of the approval process and the actual construction and layout of the site. This includes the location of roads and a settling pond, a proposed storage building that doesn’t exist and a holding pad and associated settling pond that doesn’t exist.

Burneau said there are four monitoring wells on the property but the site plan showed more. Some are in the proper locations, some are not.

All materials were being stored on the ground. Burneau said any precipitation would have passed through the material, potentially carrying contaminants into surface or groundwater. She said an acceptable manner of storage would be on concrete or another impermeable material.

Chris Manning, Shaffer’s defence lawyer, said if a loaded truck covered with a tarp comes in, it’s Shaffer’s job or that of his employees to inspect the load then dump it if it’s okay. He asked if it’s possible that there could be materials in the load that a person couldn’t see. Burneau said it’s possible.

Manning said the businesses have been closed down since the fire. He asked what Shaffer would have to do to reopen. Burneau said the site would have to be rehabilitated, which would be costly. She said she believes that a Ministerial Order issued following the fire outlines the steps needed to be taken.

The sentencing hearing will continue on Feb. 5.

3144393 Nova Scotia Limited is facing six counts of contravening a term or condition of an approval. It’s alleged that the offences were committed between Nov. 6, 2015, and March 26, 2016.

Derrick Shaffer, carrying on business as Shaffer Enterprises, is charged with 14 offences. These include 12 counts dating between March 22 and 26, 2016, at his North River Road facility: 11 counts of contravening a term or condition of an approval and a charge of being responsible for burning designated material without written authorization.

Shaffer is also charged with contravening a directive dated March 10, 2016, and contravening a Ministerial Order dated April 12, 2016.

Kentville Fire Chief Ryan MacEachern said in a March 28, 2016, interview that the apparent cause of the fire was spontaneous combustion.

Click here for an earlier story.

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