Province wants to increase scrapyard fines, require fire safety plans

A major fire in a scrapmetal yard on Saint John's waterfront in September released clouds of hazourdous smoke over the city for hours. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)
A major fire in a scrapmetal yard on Saint John's waterfront in September released clouds of hazourdous smoke over the city for hours. (Roger Cosman/CBC - image credit)

Public Safety Minister Kris Austin is proposing licensing changes to give the province more power to suspend scrapyard operators and impose heavier fines.

In a news release, Austin said this is one way the province is responding to the 12 recommendations made by a task force that reviewed a massive fire at a Saint John metal recycling facility last year.

The province revoked American Iron and Metal's salvage dealer licence on Dec. 29. No one was hurt in the fire, but it raged on for hours and produced hazardous smoke that wafted over the city and prompted air-quality warnings.

The task force concluded future fires at the scrapyard are likely, and a "catastrophic" fire could happen again. It also found that AIM's waterfront location, not far from hundreds of west-side homes, is "entirely inappropriate given its now-known hazards and risks."

According to a government news release, the amendments to the Salvage Dealers Licensing Act would:

  • Require salvage yards to provide fire safety plans and site layouts.

  • Increase the penalty for salvage dealers who violate licensing requirements.

  • Give the minister power to temporarily suspend a licence, without a hearing, while an investigation is being conducted.

  • Give the minister power to apply "special conditions" to a licence.

If the amendment goes through, all licence holders will have to have their fire plan ready by Sept. 30 of this year.

The amendment passed first reading but will still have to go through second and third readings.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said it's good to hear the province is making changes to the law.**

"It's incumbent on the province, that's offering the licence, to make sure that there are those protections in place for the community," she said.

Reardon said she hopes to see more details about the changes, including which fire marshal would assess the fire plans, and exactly how much higher the fines are going to be.

"You need a penalty that's going to fit the crime," she said. "And the potential risk of life."

Currently, operating a salvage yard without a valid license comes with a minimum fine of $240 and a maximum of $5,200. The amendment proposes that the fine for this offence should be a minimum of $500 and maximum of $20,500.

The amendment also says if the offence continues for more than a day, the minimum fine should be doubled and multiplied by the number of days the operator continues to break the rules. The maximum fine remains the same but should also be multiplied by the number of days the offence continues, the amendment says.

Scrapyard not operating, still cleaning up

Port Saint John leases land to the AIM facility. The port did not immediately respond to questions about Austin's proposed changes.

In an interview with Information Morning Saint John on Tuesday, port president and CEO Craig Estabrooks said AIM is still not operating. He said he expects it will be at least a few months before there's any chance of it resuming operations.

AIM is currently taking the province to court over its salvage dealer licence being revoked.

Estabrooks said the port's main focus is remediation of the contaminated site.

"[AIM is] working their way with ... third-party engineers to make sure that site is remediated as soon as possible," he said.