On December 16th, Regina City Council approved the development of a new 3,100 person neighbourhood, Somerset. Located north of Uplands, Somerset is in close proximity to both the Evraz steel mill and the Co-op Refinery.
Concerned about air quality, the Regina-Qu’Appelle Health Region and the provincial Ministry of the Environment both opposed the plan. So did Evraz and the Co-op Refinery.
Four councillors voted against the development: Sharron Bryce, John Findura, Shawn Fraser, and Barbara Young. Mayor Michael Fougere and the six remaining councillors voted in favour of the development. What were they thinking?
SOMERSET: AIR QUALITY ISSUES
The developers describe Somerset as a “progressive,” “logical” and “safe” development. Yet they acknowledge they have not carried out any serious air quality analysis.
Oil refineries are a major source of air pollution. According to the Environment Canada website, they release a number of air pollutants, including sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and benzene.
Each of these pollutants is a known trigger of asthma. Children are particularly susceptible to the damage caused by air pollution.
The pollutants are also linked to heart and lung disease in adults.
According to a Leader-Post editorial, “Residents of north Regina neighbourhoods have long complained of episodes of poor air quality due to strong smells from the [refinery]” (December 28 2013). Why have these complaints fallen on deaf ears?
SOMERSET: LAND TITLE CAVEAT
QUESTION: If Somerset is so “safe,” why is a caveat going to be placed on every Somerset land title, notifying prospective lot buyers “of potential noise, odour and aerial pollution associated with adjacent heavy industrial uses” (City of Regina, Somerset Neighbourhood Plan)?
ANSWER: The intention of the caveat is not to protect the health of Regina citizens. Rather it is to protect the developers, along with the City of Regina, from future lawsuits by Somerset residents who have been made ill by air pollution.
SOMERSET: SAFETY ISSUES
On December 24th, just eight days after City Council approved the Somerset plan, there was a huge explosion at the Co-op Refinery. It was the fourth time in two years there had been a major safety issue at the refinery.
This is what Mayor Fougere had to say about Somerset after the explosion: “It’s a safe development, and until we hear otherwise, it will proceed” (CBC, Dec 29 2013). The first phase of the project is slated to begin in the spring.
Doesn’t the mayor know that refineries are, by definition, flammable and explosive?
Parts of Uplands are also adjacent to the Co-op Refinery. Some councillors use Upland’s proximity to the refinery to justify their support for the Somerset project. There are several problems with this argument:
1. When Uplands was built in the 1970s, the refinery was much smaller.
2. There was also much less understanding of the effect of pollution on human health.
3. The wind direction means that Somerset will get more pollution than Uplands does.
4. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Or as Councillor Shawn Fraser put it: “The fact that we’ve built near the refinery before is not, in and of itself, enough of a reason to do it again” (Prairie Dog, December 26 2013).
Why is this development going ahead? Who stands to make a profit from it? Are politicians putting business interests ahead of the public interest?
ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM AND CLASSISM
According to the developers, houses in Somerset are going to be “affordable.” Affordability is to be achieved through “higher densities and smaller lot sizes,” as well as through “housing design and construction approaches that aim to focus density vertically rather than horizontally” (December 16, 2013 meeting of City Council).
Who is going to buy these tall, slim, “affordable” houses on narrow lots? In all likelihood, it will be landlords who will turn them into rental housing. As for the tenants, they will be people with few options.
Environmental racism/classism is the location of low-income and/or racialized communities in close proximity to environmental risks.
Develop Somerset as an urban forest with walks and a few lawns with flower gardens. Trees trap dust and absorb carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide.
It is a duty of City Council to protect the health and safety of Regina’s citizens.
Let’s thank the 4 City Councillors who voted against the Somerset plan and hence for protecting citizen’s health and safety:
Ward 1: Barbara Young 539-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 3: Shawn Fraser 551-5030 or email@example.com
Ward 5: John Findura 536-4250 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 7: Sharron Bryce 949-5025 or email@example.com
Let’s help Mayor Fougere and the 6 City Councillors who voted for the Somerset development to reverse their decision:
Mayor Michael Fougere 777-7339 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 2: Bob Hawkins 789-2888 or email@example.com
Ward 4: Bryon Burnett 737-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 6: Wade Murray 596-1035 or email@example.com
Ward 8: Mike O’Donnell 545-7300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 9: Terry Hincks 949-9690 or email@example.com
Ward 10:Jerry Flegel 537-9888 or firstname.lastname@example.org