Pubdate: Sat, 11 Nov 2017
Source: Simcoe Reformer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Sun Media
Author: Monte Sonnenberg
Page: A1


SIMCOE - A marijuana patch wound up costing Norfolk County $76,100
during last summer's toxic gas well emergency in Silver Hill.

Staff from the Ministry of the Environment stumbled across the
marijuana while setting up air-quality monitoring equipment on North
Walsingham Road 10.

Because of the marijuana, MOE determined that the site was potentially
dangerous. MOE monitoring equipment and technicians were removed to a
location on the edge of the "hot zone." They could not be convinced to
find a location closer to the offending gas wells.

Due to public health concerns and liability issues, Norfolk County
decided this was inadequate.

The county hired the private firm GHD Canada to monitor air quality in
the area of the wells leaking toxic hydrogen sulphide gas. Norfolk
budgeted $50,000 for this purpose; the final cost came in at $76,100.

"The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment
both let us down," Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt said during a break in
Tuesday's meeting of Norfolk council.

"They (MNR) caused this from the get-go, they (the MOE) walked away
and left us holding the bag. They just picked up and left the scene."

The Ontario Provincial Police advise the public each summer to walk
the other way when they encounter illegal marijuana. Police say these
plots are occasionally booby-trapped and may be treated with toxic

"The ministry determined that - because of the marijuana plants - the
location posed a risk to staff safety and was also not an appropriate
place to site equipment," Lindsay Davidson, a spokesperson for MOE,
said this week in an email.

Davidson added that the MOE's response was consistent with the
ministry's protocols for responding to a spill or industrial fire.

No one this week could confirm whether the marijuana was illegal or
planted under a Health Canada licence. In her email, Davidson refers
to "the presence of (a) suspected illegal grow operation."

On Thursday, Marlene Miranda, Norfolk and Haldimand's head of health
and social services, said the marijuana was brought to the attention
of the Norfolk OPP.

Haydt's reference to the MNR concerns the fact that the ministry
plugged a natural gas vent along the banks of Big Creek west of Silver
Hill several years ago.

The MNR acted because the vent was spewing toxic water and hydrogen
sulphide gas into the ecosystem. Residents suspect this had the effect
of backing up pressure in the adjoining gas field, causing hydrogen
sulphide emissions to erupt from old gas wells near residential dwellings.

On Aug. 18, the health unit issued evacuation orders for six
households on North Walsingham Road 10 due to high levels of hydrogen
sulphide gas. The gas is poisonous, flammable and corrosive. It smells
like rotten eggs.

The MNR absorbed the $200,000 cost of capping one well. A second leaky
well was deemed the responsibility of the property owner, who had
contracted it out for commercial purposes. The evacuation order was
lifted in its entirety Sept. 14.

At Tuesday's meeting, Norfolk council heard that the county's response
to the emergency cost about $155,000 in total. Mayor Charlie Luke and
CAO David Cribbs were directed to seek reimbursement from the MNR and
the MOE for expenses that can be reasonably ascribed to the province.

"We have to figure out a way to recoup these costs," Luke said. "We
can't afford to be in this business. We were put between a rock and a
hard place. If someone had died or been seriously injured and we
didn't spend this money on monitoring, what then is the price we pay
for that?"
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt