CAO: May be a case for provincial compensation
Toxic leaks at natural gas wells in Silver Hill this summer also sprung a leak in the municipal treasury at Governor Simcoe Square.
County expenditures in response to the leaks will total between $152,000 and $155,000. Norfolk has no budget in this area and is expected to fund it as an unexpected charge against the levy.
“The gas emergency was a stressful, emotionally-charged event because of the potentially serious health and safety dangers for some area residents,” Norfolk CAO David Cribbs says in a report to Norfolk council.
“Further, the subject matter was not one in which county staff possessed knowledge, training or expertise. Fortunately, staff are well trained to function effectively in emergency situations, which is exactly what occurred.”
The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit evacuated six households on North Walsingham Road 10 this summer after two natural gas wells began emitting high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide gas.
The gas is toxic, corrosive and flammable and often associated with natural gas production. It smells like rotten eggs.
The first evacuations were ordered Aug. 18. The evacuation order was lifted after the two wells were capped.
One well on the property of Kim and Ian Grant cost $200,000 to cap. The Ministry of Natural Resources covered this expense. The second well nearby was a commercial well and was capped at the expense of the property owner.
In his report, Cribbs said the public health emergency was responsible for $53,000 in extraordinary salary costs and overtime.
The county incurred another $76,100 in charges when it was forced to hire the private monitoring firm GHD Canada to monitor hydrogen sulphide levels until the offending wells were capped. When council agreed to hire GHD Aug. 29, it budgeted $50,000 for this purpose.
In his report, Cribbs says the Ministry of Environment washed its hands of the situation in Silver Hill once it determined that hydrogen sulphide concentrations were at dangerous levels.
“It should be noted that the county incurred costs to monitor gas levels – being a service provided by MOE – after MOE staff left the area at a critical juncture because of an unrelated concern,” Cribbs says in his report.
“When it was established that there was a potentially dangerous gas leak, MOE staff would not again enter the `hot zone’ and would not allow non-MOE staff to borrow their specialized equipment to use in the hot zone, which is what ultimately necessitated hiring the private sector contractor (GHD).”
In his report, Cribbs notes “There exists some potential-theoretical capacity to recuperate some costs from the provincial government.”
Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett raised the gas emergency in the Legislature at Queen’s Park Oct. 25. Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources, told Barrett that funding public health emergencies is a municipal responsibility and that no funding from her ministry would be forthcoming.
Cribbs notes that another natural gas well on county property on Forestry Farm Road is emitting hydrogen sulphide gas. He said these leaks could represent a significant ongoing cost for the county.
Cribbs' report will be considered at Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council. The meeting will be held in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square beginning at 3 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.