Fire chief hopes Supreme Court can help quell west-side fires
DOUG SCHMIDT, WINDSOR STAR
Published on: April 6, 2016 | Last Updated: April 6, 2016 7:27 PM EDT
After just the latest of many recent arsons in the shadow of the Ambassador Bridge, Windsor’s fire chief is looking to the Supreme Court of Canada to provide some relief.
“The sooner the legal issues are resolved … that’ll be significant,” Bruce Montone told the Star Wednesday.
Later this month, Canada’s highest court will hear arguments on whether the City of Windsor has jurisdiction to order the owners of the Ambassador Bridge to fix more than 100 homes it bought up, emptied out, boarded up and then just let sit and rot. The bridge company argues its operation falls under federal jurisdiction and that Windsor has no say on its now-dilapidated residential holdings within the municipality’s boundaries.
Since 2013, Montone said there have been 14 deliberately set fires at abandoned homes in the immediate area around Indian Road, where most of the homes are owned by the bridge company and sit vacant and crumbling. Tuesday night, fire crews were sent scrambling to the latest call, a two-storey multi-unit at 768 Indian Rd.
“We’re frustrated. What concerns me is we’re tying up resources and putting firefighters at risk — for someone’s entertainment,” Montone said of the likely perpetrators.
The chief is pinning his hopes on a Supreme Court case that could force bridge billionaire Matty Moroun, if the municipality wins, to fix his west-side residential holdings so they’re not such magnets for mischief-makers. The properties have been acquired to accommodate the bridge company’s desire to twin its current international span, a plan the city fiercely opposes as a threat to Olde Sandwich.
At about the same time as the city launched a property standards crackdown in that neighbourhood in 2013, the local fire department began responding to a spike in deliberately set fires at boarded-up homes.
Montone said the abandonment of the homes and the growing blight in the area “absolutely” contribute to the mischief, vandalism and fires. He said having neighbours keeping a watch on their neighbours, especially “in a community like Windsor where we keep a keen eye on each other,” is a big deterrent to such vandalism, but there are few neighbours living around Indian Road.
“This is a waste of our resources, and it’s an unneeded risk to the community, an unneeded risk to the surrounding properties and an unneeded risk to my staff,” said Montone. Tying up crews and equipment on such mischief calls also increases the risks to others should the department be required to respond to another fire at the same time.
“I agree wholeheartedly with the chief — it’s frustrating for us too,” said Stan Korosec, director of Canadian government relations and security for the Detroit International Bridge Company.
Korosec said the bridge company approached city council with a demolition application following one of those fires, at 446 Indian Rd., but that administration reported “this house posed no threat to public safety.”
“We would like to tear it all down,” Korosec said of the bridge company’s desire to turn the properties it’s acquired into “green space” ahead of a Transport Canada decision on whether or not to issue a permit for an Ambassador Bridge twinning.
With walls buckling, floors rotted open and asbestos throughout, Korosec said the cost of required rehabilitation would make the boarded-up homes unaffordable.
One of the challenges along Indian Road, Montone said, is that responding emergency crews don’t know whether someone might be inside a burning building, even when it’s obviously abandoned and falling apart, which can put firefighters in danger.
While the fires might be deliberately set, Montone is reluctant to call them arsons.
As for the regular Windsor firefighter callouts to Indian Road, “they shouldn’t have to be doing this,” Korosec said.
The city accuses the bridge company of engaging in “block-busting” to get its way in building a new international span, a project that would include a large new customs inspection plaza. Opponents are concerned about the impact the development would have on West Windsor.