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Would you live here?

Imagine being next door to this.  Lovely, isn’t it?
Imagine being next door to this. Lovely, isn’t it?

Regina’s newest and most controversial new neighbourhood

Article: Adam Gamble – Contributor & Alec Salloum – News Editor

Regina is very much a boomtown at the moment and is thusly expanding exponentially to accommodate the influx of new and returning citizens. For example, Harbor Landing in the southwest of Regina has been undergoing rigorous development in the past years and is slated to eventually house 10,000 residences. Harbor Landing offers a relatively safe new development in the city, which cannot be said for all future neighbourhoods.

SomerSet, a new development in north Regina will be precariously perched between the Consumers Co-operative Refinery Limited (CCRL) and the Evraz steel mill. Even more alarming is the proximity of this new development to each perspective industrial site. SomerSet at its extremities will be only 700 meters away from the CCRL while a 1-kilometer buffer will exist between it and Evraz.

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said on Dec. 29, “Uplands is closer to the refinery than SomerSet would be. So, it’s been approved by the province and the city, and it is a safe development, and until we hear otherwise, it will proceed.”

Does the fact that Uplands is closer to the refinery and has existed since the early-1970s prove Somerset is actually safe? On Dec. 28, one day before Fougere gave his seemingly legitimate, yet unconvincing corroboration that the neighbourhood is safe, Ward 6 City Councilor Wade Murray spoke on the topic.

“What would it say to the people of Uplands to say, ‘No, we won’t approve something that’s farther away than you are?'” said Murray, in reference to what might have spurred if the city had ignored the province’s approval and not gone ahead with SomerSet.

Regardless, this proximity is alarming, considering the recent explosion at the CCRL on Dec. 24. The explosion could be felt across the city and was heard by even more Regina residents. One resident living on 20 Avenue south reported hearing the blast over seven kilometers away.

The refinery has been host to a myriad of issues recently. In 2011 a fire broke out billowing smoke and potentially harmful fumes into Uplands and surrounding areas.

2012 saw two incidents, an explosion in October and another fire in May. Earlier in 2013 another fire was reported.

Also, Dec. 20, 2013, days before the explosion at the refinery crude oil blanketed the surrounding area. Up to 700 feet away oil rained down, covering cars and roads. CCRL is paying for the cleaning but if a residential area were to have been near the refinery the clean up and impact could have been much greater.

All these incidents are potentially catastrophic, considering the sheer volume of petroleum and other flammable, explosive and lethally toxic products at the refinery. Apart from these concerns there also exists the possibility of air born irritants that may be harmful.

Since the blast occurred an investigation was issued into how and why this happened. Nearly one month later no conclusive information has been brought to light.

Considering that SomerSet will cover 140 acres of land and house approximately 3000 people, this places several future residents in risk and has been a major point of contention for Evraz, CCRL, and Environment Saskatchewan. Of these three examples, Evraz and CCRL oppose the new development because, in summation, if things are to go wrong, another explosion or fire happens, they will be blamed, not the municipal government.

Environment Saskatchewan has been vocal in its opposition of residential areas being located close to industrial sites. Additionally, when asked what else the department was planning to do Barbra Barootes, Ministry of Environment communications consultant, offered this statement.

“The potential nuisance factors involving air quality considerations potentially affecting Somerset have been reviewed by the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Health and the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, and it is understood a caveat will be registered on all properties to inform future landowners of the potential risk of odour and nuisance due to the proximity to the industrial users. The City of Regina has complied with this recommendation.”

SomerSet may be safe according to Fougere, but as Murray’s statements suggest, the City could already be aware of the health hazards imputed to neighbourhoods – current and future – near Evraz and the refinery like Uplands and SomerSet.

In 2012, the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, Ministry of Health and the City of Regina began conducting a monitoring study to collect air quality data from Regina residential neighbourhoods. The study is the first of its kind.

“It will be completed sometime in 2014,” according to Barbara Barootes. The report will consist of monthly-collected data from 18 sites across Regina. The data collected will shed light on the severity of various compounds around each site.

The site closest to SomerSet, located near St. Gregory School, contains nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulphide – all of which are potentially harmful to people’s health. For instance, ozone can produce irritation to the respiratory passages, burning eyes and headaches.

So why is it that the report will be completed and visible to the public after SomerSet has already been given the “OK”? Many speculations can be made.

Jerry Boulanger, 61, who has lived in Uplands for 31 years, says it does not matter if they find any alarming data.

“The wind blows in all directions. If we can smell a forest fire from 150 kilometers away, do you really think that we would be the only ones affected by the air, if there are health hazards?” said Boulanger. “It doesn’t matter [if they find something]. We’re already here.”

In light of the explosion, many citizens have become outraged at the potential new neighbourhood, but as Director of Planning for the City of Regina Diana Hawryluk explained, their chance to stop it is gone.

“A Concept Plan to support the proposed SomerSet development was approved by City Council on December 16. Through that approval process, the public was provided an opportunity to provide comments or objections directly to Council.”

Aside from this, although the city, province and ultimately the Regina Planning Committee gave the go ahead, there were many who did not; the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment, Shawn Fraser, Barbara Young, Sharron Bryce and John Findura – all city councilors; and even the Evraz steel mill and CCRL. Their main concerns were the same: the potential noise, odour and aerial pollution from the industrial complexes surrounding SomerSet and the train tracks running adjacent to it.

Despite health concerns and no official air quality testing occurring before the Regina Planning Commission voted on RPC12-82, giving SomerSet the go ahead.

Ultimately SomerSet’s success or failure relies on people actually buying into the neighbourhood. With the caveat being registered and a great deal of public discontent SomerSet may not succeed. However, Mayor Fougere still maintains that he has no concerns towards the new neighbourhood. The coming months and initial development of the property will be a telling time for Regina’s newest and most controversial neighbourhood.

Image: Emily Wright

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One comment

  1. “Ultimately SomerSet’s success or failure relies on people actually buying into the neighbourhood. With the caveat being registered and a great deal of public discontent SomerSet may not succeed.”

    The unfortunate thing about a neighbourhood like Somerset is that it will succeed precisely because prices for houses will be lower due to its proximity to the Co-op Refinery and Evraz. In a city where housing is expensive as it is, the lower prices will attract people who need houses. Low-priced housing is not a bad thing – indeed, it’s a critical thing for any city – but that doesn’t mean that it has to be put into an area that’s been deemed unfit by the refinery, the steel mill, the Ministry of the Environment, and the RQHR. It’s nice to know that the moral implications of putting people with less money into the areas not recommended for habitation by all the experts weighed so heavily on the mayor’s, councils, and the developers decision. Oh wait, it didn’t. They only thought with their wallet.