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Independent probe suggests no wrongdoing from city, accused in soil dumping at Waterdown Gardens site

Waterdown Garden Supplies in Troy, Ont. The Ontario government has announced legislation that would stiffen penalties for illegal soil dumping. Google Street View

A third-party investigation is putting the City of Hamilton and two staffers in the clear over an alleged illegal soil dumping operation that has yielded a legal claim.

The independent probe advanced by the city’s auditor claims there’s no indication that contaminated soil from two public works projects was improperly disposed of at Waterdown Gardens.

“The overall conclusion we’ve drawn … is that they found no evidence to substantiate any of the allegations specifically in relation to the haulage of contaminated soils,” city auditor Charles Brown said in a media conference on Thursday morning.

Read more: Hamilton area MP calls for RCMP to investigate contaminated soil dumping case

The report was spurred by a $75-million claim filed by Waterdown Garden Supplies in January 2021 that alleges thousands of loads of “contaminated industrial soil” was trucked from city-owned locations and illegally dumped at the Flamborough site in 2018 and 2019.

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Forensic investigations firm Kroll Canada was hired by Brown and began the examination with a team of six in February.

Brown said the scope of the analysis was driven by allegations in the original and amended statements of claim that suggested “impacted soil” from city public works projects was hauled to Waterdown Gardens and that city employees were complicit.

City equipment used by the employees, technology, cellphones, laptops, reviews of city records public information, and personal information were all key parts of Kroll’s investigation, according to the auditor.

The projects in question were a Woodward public works initiative and a similar Governor’s Road task. The claim alleges soil was improperly disposed from both to the Waterdown Gardens site.

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“There was some evidence that non-impacted or clean soil was taken from Governor’s Road to the Waterdown Gardens property, but Kroll didn’t identify any information indicating that any impacted or contaminated soil was taken there,” Brown said.

The Waterdown Garden Supplies court filing claims the existence of a 2015 court injunction that prohibits dumping of any sort on that property.

Director of the city’s environmental services Craig Murdoch said the material that was found to have been dumped at the Waterdown site was not on the direction of the city, but that of an independent contractor hired by Hamilton.

“They were responsible for finding the final home for these materials,” said Murdoch.

Read more: City councillor says Waterdown Garden Supply neighbours need reassurance of well-water testing

“The city did not direct where this material was going to be going, and this was done by the contractor independently, although the information was provided to the city as they were dumping their material there.”

Brown said two source sites with contaminated soil were identified through documentation obtained from a separate third-party study, however none of the samples were tied to any city-led projects, according to the Kroll report.

City general manager Jason Thorne says the city bylaws are currently being enforced at the Waterdown Gardens site prohibiting new fill.

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“We do continue to respond from a bylaw standpoint…. My understanding is that the provincial ministry continues to investigate … from a Ministry of Environment standpoint,” said Thorne.

There was also no indication that two city employees, accused of conspiring to cover up the alleged dumping, had any connection to such a scheme, according to Brown.

Thorne said the staffers, who were put on leave and questioned during the investigation, have now returned to their regular positions.

Read more: Contaminated soil removal to begin at Kenilworth reservoir

“I’d like to thank them for that and for their professionalism throughout,” Thorne said.

“I can confirm that the city has and will continue to defend against these allegations.”

In 2019, then Flamborough-Glanbrook Conservative MP David Sweet pleaded with the RCMP to investigate the Waterdown Garden site alleging links to organized crime.

The accusations came from a group of residents living near Highway 5 in west Flamborough who complained that contaminated soil had been dumped at Waterdown Gardens.

Ontario’s Environment Ministry has been investigating the allegations, which involve a company called Havana Group Supplies – whose one minority owner is alleged to be the late Hamilton mobster Pat Musitano.

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“The federal government needs to take serious action to target and eliminate organized crime in Hamilton before that violence becomes more widespread and innocent civilians get caught in the crosshairs,” said Sweet.

Read more: Downward Kenilworth Access set to be single lane until summer amid rehabilitation project

In March, Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson asked staff at a general issues committee meeting if the city can provide free testing for contaminants over concerns from nearby residents that their water may not be safe to drink.

The city complied in April offering to spend up to $100,000 to test drinking water wells for close to 10 known contaminants.

In November, a report testing of 12 properties around the Waterdown site found no evidence of contamination due to soil dumping.

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