Alberta Proposing to allow Cities to Tax Vacant Brownfields

The Alberta Government recently released proposed changes to the Alberta Municipal Act that, if enacted, would allow for municipalities to tax vacant non-residential property at a higher rate than occupied properties.  The proposal is viewed as a means to spur the development of brownfield properties.

As reported in the Calgary Sun, Edmonton city council is behind the proposal, citing concerns that empty commercial buildings bring down a neighbourhood.  Municipal councillors in Calgary are split on the proposal.

Evan Woolley, a Calgary Councillor, was quoted in the Calgary Sun saying, “I have no interest in raising a new tax on property that can’t be developed. We already know how much property is vacant downtown and raising taxes will only make things worse.”

Calgary Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell disagrees with her colleague, arguing that raising taxes on business owners who are bringing down the property values for the rest of the community can be an effective way to encourage them to either use the land, or sell it to someone who will.  “We see contaminated sites in high profiles areas, particularly with old gas stations. There’s no incentive to develop it and if it was taxed on highest and best use that would encourage the owner to actually make the most out of it instead of keeping it there as an eyesore,” said Farrell in the Calgary Sun.

Farrell emphasizes that even if the province gives the city power, they won’t necessarily use it, but it’ll be another tool the city can access if they want.

The province hopes to have the amendments come into force prior to October’s municipal election.

The abandoned Eamon’s Camp land in Calgary, Alberta on January 12, 2012. (Photo Credit: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald)

Canadian TSB rules on Train Derailment in Northern Ontario

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada recently issued a report on its findings related to the 2015 derailment of a train in 2015.  In its report, it ruled that a missed defect in an improperly repaired rail led to a 2015 freight train derailment in northern Ontario that caused numerous cars carrying crude oil to catch fire and crash into a local river system, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Thursday.

As a result of its investigation into the incident, the board recommended Transport Canada consistently collect data on general rail surface conditions — and not just previously recorded defects — to better focus its track inspections and help predict future rail failures.

“Track defect information is required to be reported to Transport Canada, while rail surface condition information is not consistently provided and rarely requested by the regulator,” said TSB chair Kathy Fox.

Gogama train derailment

“By integrating rail surface condition data, the planning process may more clearly identify areas of potential track deterioration and the targeted track inspections can be better focused to reduce risk in the rail transportation system.”

Thirty-nine CN Rail cars went off the tracks near Gogama, Ont., in March 2015, while the train was travelling east at 69 kilometres an hour, less than the speed limit. As a result, 2.6 million litres of oil were released, igniting an explosion that destroyed a steel rail bridge, the TSB said.

“This was the third significant derailment involving a CN freight train in a three-week span in early 2015 … in northern Ontario,” Fox said, noting that Transport Canada had not inspected that area of track since 2012.

There were no injuries reported, but residents of the nearby Mattagami First Nation were advised to stay indoors during the cleanup due to possible smoke inhalation and told not to consume water from the community source.

The TSB said the derailment occurred after a recently repaired rail within a joint broke under the train.

Rob Johnston, manager of the TSB’s central region rail operations, said a track maintenance employee repaired the broken rail three days before the derailment.

But during the repair, he missed an internal defect called a vertical split head, which was present, but not visible to the naked eye, Johnston said.

The crack could have been detected with what’s known as a dye penetrant test, Johnston said, but that was not performed even though it was required by CN standards.

“While aware of the test, the employee had never performed one or seen one before,” he said. “CN’s training did not highlight the importance of the test and did not provide opportunities for practical, hands-on training.”

Given the botched rail repair, the TSB’s report notes that a “slow order” should have been applied to reduce the speed of the train on that section of the track, but none was issued.

Going forward, the TSB called on Transport Canada to gather data from railways on rail conditions — such as localized surface collapse — that can help identify areas of potential track deterioration.

Fox said Transport Canada considers various factors to identify areas of concern, most of which are events that have already occurred — such as the number of accidents, broken rails or track defects that required repair under track safety rules.

CN said it has taken action to increase safety measures following the 2015 derailments, from improving training for all track workers to implementing stronger engineering standards for its rail repairs and inspections.

“We have expanded our use of technology to analyse, monitor and inspect track across the CN network. We continue to invest to maintain, improve and protect our infrastructure,” CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said Thursday.

“This was a very unfortunate incident, the result of a broken rail, and we apologize to the residents of Gogama and the Mattagami First Nation for the impacts to their community.”