Tony McAuley runs his finger along a rhododendron leaf, smudging away a thick coat of dust.
“This is what we are breathing every day,” says the co-owner of Lynne’s Little Elf Garden Centre on Goldstream Avenue. “The concrete dust settles on everything.”
McAuley and his wife Lynne Hedstrom-McAuley live next door to Tower Fence Products, which runs a busy ready-mix concrete plant just metres from the trees, shrubs and perennials of the the garden supply store.
Concrete powder blowing in and out of tall silos and a steady stream of concrete trucks has turned the residential neighbourhood into a noisy dust bowl, McAuley says. Most days the 1000 block of Goldstream Avenue is coated in grey dust, and after a rain, cement powder sludge drains into city storm sewers.
“Even on Sundays the road is dirty,” McAuley said. “The bottom line is (Tower) is in the wrong place.”
Tower Fencing and the City of Langford couldn’t agree more. Tower put its Goldstream Avenue properties up for sale earlier this year in a bid to move the successful and rapidly growing company out of where it’s not wanted.
Tower owner Denis Madsen hasn’t responded to recent emails or phone calls, but he has said in a previous interview he doesn’t want conflict with this neighbours and plans to relocate his business and its 150 employees outside of the city this year.
That is cold comfort to some residents, who remain frustrated the City allows a large industrial operation to continue in the midst of what is now a residential area.
“The dust is crazy. Clouds of dust fly up,” said Karen Higginbotham, who lives near Tower on Goldstream Avenue. She worries about her young daughter breathing concrete dust and the frequent trucks rumbling through the neighbourhood.
“I don’t begrudge anyone from having a successful business, but what they are doing there is too loud, dusty and dangerous for a residential area,” Higginbotham said.
The Ministry of Environment has taken notice, and has directed Tower to better control its fugitive dust, and is investigating if what blows away is hitting levels considered to be air pollution.
The white and blue concrete delivery trucks are washed at the site exit, and the company has a sweeper to clean up the road, but dust remains a problem, said Katherine Pearce, an environmental protection technician with the Ministry of Environment.
“It seems the current dust control is not sufficient,” Pearce said. “We’ve directed Tower to add measures to mitigate dust.”
The ministry has directed Tower to hire a consultant to conduct air quality monitoring over the summer, measuring dust fall and particulate matter. An air quality study was also conducted at Tower in the fall of 2010.
Pearce said an air quality study over the dry season – July and August – should “provide a level of certainty” for the source of the dust and the level of potential environmental contamination.
“On site I observed elevated levels of dust, visible dust near the silos and the roadway,” Pearce said, referring to a visit to Tower on May 13. “But to determine if it’s pollution, we need to quantify those levels.”
At the same time, Langford has an ongoing court action against Tower, alleging that the company erected its concrete silos without permits, and that the scale of its concrete operations far exceeds the allowable uses.
The allegations haven’t been proven in court and Madsen flatly denies he is breaking any zoning laws – the land was zoned for concrete manufacturing when he bought the property in 1989. Langford argues the zoning did allow for a small concrete operation, but Tower has moved into the realm of heavy industry.
“What we need is compliance with the zoning,” said Langford’s senior bylaw enforcement officer Lorne Fletcher. “Within the land use, light or heavy industry does not fit and is not allowed. There is a school next door, residential areas and a park.”
Fletcher noted that Tower has no business license for concrete portion of the businesses operations, “which forms part of the City’s arguments against the property.”
“Just because there is no business license doesn’t mean (Tower) will fold up its tent,” Fletcher said. Tower has moved slowly on supplying financial documents for the court action, Fletcher adds, and Madsen himself is due to be interviewed for the discovery phase in mid July.
“It’s dusty, it’s noisy and there are spinoff environmental concerns,” Fletcher said. “But we are at the schedule of the courts. Everything that can be done is being done.”
Langford Mayor Stew Young said the City isn’t eager to spend taxpayer dollars on a court action against a Langford business, but they are prepared to continue down that road unless Tower relocates or conforms to allowed uses under the zoning.
“We aren’t trying to push out a business. This is a great business for Langford, but it needs to be in an industrial area,” Young says. “We’ve got to protect the neighbourhood around there. You just have to drive down the road to see the dust.”
At Little Elf Garden Centre, employee Ben Bondar goes to work each day braced for noise and a headache. He’s collecting dust samples to submit to laboratory testing to determine if what he’s breathing is hazardous to his and his employers’ health.
“We are looking to prove the dust is pollution, that the dust that crosses (Spencer) school grounds creates a health hazard.”