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Crown seeking $125,000 in fines from operator of Kings County C&D disposal site

Firefighters fought the fire that broke out March 22, 2016 at the disposal and transfer site owned by Derrick Shaffer until they declared it extinguished March 27. -Art Hamilton
Firefighters fought the fire that broke out March 22, 2016 at the disposal and transfer site owned by Derrick Shaffer until they declared it extinguished March 27. -Art Hamilton - Submitted

Site operator Derrick Shaffer testifies at sentencing: 'I didn't dream of having another fire'

KENTVILLE, NS – The owner of a construction and demolition disposal site and waste transfer facility where a days-long fire in March 2016 prompted province-wide air quality warnings could face fines of up to $125,000 in fines.

Derrick Shaffer, owner of both businesses, pleaded guilty to two counts against Shaffer Enterprises, the C&D disposal site, of being responsible for burning designated material without written authorization and contravening a term of condition of an approval, and one count against 3144393 Nova Scotia Limited, the transfer site, of contravening a term or condition of an approval.

At a sentencing hearing in Kentville provincial court Feb. 5, overseen by Judge Alan Tufts, Crown prosecutor Robert Morrison recommended Shaffer receive fines totalling $125,000 – $75,000 for the first count, and $25,000 each for the second and third.

Defence disagrees with fines

Chris Manning, Shaffer’s defence lawyer, argued that his client has spent an estimated $400,000 from the day the fire happened until present, including $100,000 alone on fighting the blaze.

South Mountain Construction and Debris Recycling Ltd. owners Barbara and Derrick Shaffer.
Facility owners Barbara and Derrick Shaffer.

He suggested a $10,000 fine for each charge, totaling $30,000.

Manning added Shaffer says his businesses that were involved in the fire are “all but broke…,” is “just keeping his head above the water,” and that this should also be taken into account.

Morrison argued the fines were reasonable given the level of risk Shaffer operated with, referencing his lack of a working contingency plan for fire on the property.

In his original business proposal, filed to receive permits to operate the business, Shaffer outlined the use of a ladder truck he owned to keep any potential fires that occurred from spreading.

This truck was frozen and not working at the time of the fire, leaving Shaffer to use water from different hoses and equipment other than the truck itself.

Shaffer, who testified at the hearing, said he assumed fire was a low risk during the month of March and therefore didn’t see the non-working truck as a risk.

“There was snow on everything and it was all frozen. I didn’t dream of having another fire,” he said.

Prohibited material at site

Morrison pointed out several types of prohibited items were found within the 80-foot high cell, a designated area for C&D material disposal, which he says created another element of risk at the site.

Department of Environment inspector Jacquelyn Burneau, who assessed the site in November 2015 and was called there during the fire in March 2016, identified the items, listing recyclables, plastics, metals, tires, mattresses, textiles, household garbage and paper as being present on the property.

Shaffer could face fines totaling $125,000 once a decision comes through March 21, 2018 on the fire at his disposal and transfer site, at which the disposal material pile measured eight stories tall.
Shaffer could face fines totaling $125,000 once a decision comes through March 21, 2018 on the fire at his disposal and transfer site, at which the disposal material pile measured eight stories tall.

Recyclable items were permitted to stay on the property for 60 days, but Burneau noted many of the same items still present in March.

Shaffer testified he operated both businesses within the same cell and told the court he didn’t know it was illegal to do so until a March 10 meeting with Burneau in Kentville. He said the items in question were atop the cell waiting to be sorted.

Shaffer also said the amount of other prohibited items at the site was due to outside parties he had hired to remove these items not fulfilling their side of the bargain, leaving the items at the site longer than the permitted 60 days.

“You can’t get rid of a lot of the stuff within 60 days. It’s impossible. …You’ve got to survive, and you’ve got to play the market,” said Shaffer.

The Crown also outlined that capping procedures - outlined in the businesses’ environmental directives as the annual creation of clay barriers between layers of disposed material - were not being followed.

Shaffer said he capped the site as needed, with gravel and wood chips, and did not realize it needed to be completed annually.

‘It was your responsibility’

Morrison responded that regardless of these defences, Shaffer remains the sole party responsible for ensuring items are removed within the 60 days, and that the capping should have followed the environmental directives.

“At the end of the day, Mr. Shaffer, it was your responsibility to move this material where it needed to be, and it wasn’t somebody else’s responsibility. Ultimately, it was yours, and ultimately, you didn’t do it,” said Morrison.

Tufts said a proper sentencing would require examination of precedents and similar cases, and adjourned the case until March 21.

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