“It should all be torn down,” says Jessica Page, glancing at the abandoned, crumbling buildings across the street. “It’s disgusting.” Page, 22, is standing in the dirt that is her front yard, her two toddlers distracted by a few plastic toys. She and another woman rent a modest twostorey house in the poor part of Brantford, Ont., 100 km southwest of Toronto. Page has had it with the 21-ha lot. The industrial park has a history of farm-equipment manufacturing that stretches back to the end of the 19th century. Now, with many of the buildings in disuse, the land polluted with hydrocarbons and
heavy metáis, Brantford has an environmental headache that’ll cost more than $17 million to get rid of. Says Page, “Kids are always trying to sneak in-it’s really dangerous.”
And terribly frustrating. Marguerite CeschiSmith, a city councillor and chairwoman of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ brownfield committee, says her city has eight neglected industrial sites that owe more than $10 million in back taxes, millions more to the province and Ottawa. But reclaiming these lands isn’t easy. Part of the problem are bankruptcy iaws that can leave properties in limbo. Brantford, for instance, had no authority to evict squatters from one abandoned building owned by an insolvent firm. Fires did the trickafter four of them, the city was able to de-
molish the building in the name of safety.
Cities generally don’t get much help from the provinces or Ottawa, says Ceschi-Smith. “Both levels of government profited immensely from the taxes paid when these companies were in operation,” she says. Now, she adds, it should be payback time. “The argument is simple: brownfields redevelopment is smart growth, and it’s vital to ensuring we can all live in healthy and sustainable communities.”
The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy would agree, in its report on brownfields, the independent advisory board has called on the federal government to develop a national strategy with input from the provinces and municipalities. Brownfields often lie fallow even when new projects would more than repay costs. Roadblocks, the Round Table found, include a lack of access to capital, liability risks, limited access to insurance protection, regulatory delays, and little awareness in the public and private sectors.
These obstacles need to be cleared if brownfields, particularly in smaller municipalities, are to be given a new life. Ceschi-Smith cites an example in which Brantford is being forced into the potentially expensive position of suing one property owner after the province refused to repossess the land for taxes owing. The province, Ceschi-Smith says, got cold feet and did not want to be saddled with a polluted lot. “Who do we go to now?” asks Ceschi-Smith. “We’re totally hamstrung. And, federally, I can’t say it’s a whole lot better. For the smaller municipalities, what are we supposed to do?”
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