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The Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal has dismissed an appeal from an individual ordered to clean up the  historic contaminated site of a bankrupt company in Brighton, Ontario.

Bruce Cooey’s father owned Cooey Metal Products Ltd., which owned and operated  an factory in Brighton, Ontario, between 1941 and 1989. The site was contaminated, the company became insolvent and the site was abandoned. The family’s lawyer, Simon Morris Rosenfeld, sat on the board from 1982 until the company was dissolved in 1994. Mr. Cooey ended up as the registered owner of the land, but without the money to clean it up.

In 2000, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment tried to force Bruce Cooey to clean up the site. After an exhaustive review of his (lack of) finances, they abandoned the effort as futile. By 2009, the site had still not been cleaned up, and the MOE issued a new clean up order. This time the order was addressed to Bruce Cooey and to the lawyer, Simon Rosenfeld, who had been a director 15 years before.

In 2011, the Ministry agreed to withdraw the order against Mr. Rosenfeld “on the basis that Mr. Rosenfeld is not involved in the ownership, management or control of the Site, as is required for the issuance of an order under section 157.1 of the EPA.” Mr. Cooey continued with his appeal against the Order, apparently representing himself. The ERT has now dismissed his appeal, on the grounds that he failed to comply with their procedural directions.

So now the Ministry has a clean up Order in force against Mr. Cooey. But if he doesn’t have the money to comply, what’s next? Will they prosecute him for not complying with the order, and add fines to what he owes? Will they put him in jail for not having the money to clean up his father’s mess? (Do we still have debtor’s prison in Ontario?) And then what will they do about the site?

We need a coherent policy for dealing with contaminated sites owned by individuals or organizations who don’t have the money to clean them up. And we don’t have one.

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