Lawyer Chris Watkins will be filing a second class-action lawsuit in reaction to last month's flood that affected thousands in Thunder Bay.
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A local law firm says it will either proceed with a flood-related class-action lawsuit against City of Thunder Bay, or after a 60-day notification period, include the Ministry of the Environment and up the suit to $500 million.
Lawyer Sandy Zaitzeff added Monday they may not be done, indicating they may add another agency which operates under the auspices of the MOE to the suit, which has yet to be certified in court.
Zaitzeff, a lawyer in the Watkins Law Professional Corporation, said with the notice of intent filed against the province, they've officially put the MOE on notice.
"We will be seeking compensatory damages from the ministry for all of the allegations contained in our issued statement of claim and the specific allegations agains the Ministry of the Environment are simply that ... they are the regulator, they are the government. They have full authority to make regulations, to police the city, to inspect the city, to make sure the city is following the environmental legislation that the province has already put out. That's the job of the regulator," Zaitzeff said.
The $500-million tab is quite generous, he added.
The Ministry of the Environment has unlimited resource and is backed by the province, he said. Zaitzeff estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 homes that were affected by the May 28 flood, with an average sewer claim of $50,000. He said most affected homeowners, with sewage and water soaking into the foundations, are likely facing complete basement replacement. Based on discussions with two contractors and two engineers, that will cost between $80,000 and $120,000 per home.
"That puts the damages at $1.5 billion. So to ask the province for $500 million to make this city whole is very conservative," Zaitzeff said.
He added they are looking into whether or not the federal government should be included in the lawsuit.
"We may go against the feds, but we're only researching the feds. There's another agency, whose title and name I'm not going to disclose today. But the MOE is responsible as the watchdog of that agency as well. The MOE is really the policeman on the beat. They failed to enforce what they knew they had to have out there. They failed to tell the city to clean the ditches, add ditches, look after your overall drainage plan, check the low-lying areas, bring it up to date, bring it up to the year 2012 and let's get going," he said.
Contacted Monday afternoon by Thunder Bay Television, an MOE spokesperson had no comment.
Watkins, who will announce the details of the suit at a 4 p.m. news conference in Thunder Bay, said the province knew about global warming ahead of the May 28 flood that devastated parts of the city, but did nothing to combat the problem.
"(Sandy) Zaitzeff, our lead counsel on the present issued class action against the City of Thunder Bay, has informed me of the intention to place the Ontario Ministry of the Environment on legal notice forthwith for its negligence in failing to properly protect the health and property of the residents of this community.
"The MOE is the regulator, the watch dog, the policemen and they failed to watch and police Thunder Bay."
According to Zaitzeff, the MOE did not check the plant or put enforceable guidelines in place.
"How could they let the city run with an 8-4:30 shift and how could they let the city do things like that, in the full face of a storm tracking its way north that blasted our city. How could they do that? Where was the watchdog? Where was the policemen?"
Watkins and Zaitzeff have already filed a $300-million class-action lawsuit against the City of Thunder Bay, accusing the municipality of negligence in its role in not preventing the sewage treatment plant failure that caused raw sewage to back up into basements of several hundred homes.
In explaining the need for a second suit, lawyer Chris Watkins said the alleged negligence by the MOE occurred before, during and after the recent flooding, stating the government has been aware for an extensive period of time of changing weather patterns due to global warming.
"They were aware that these changes could result in storms of this type. They had knowledge that such events would become more frequent and pronounced. They were aware of the impact of these changes especially upon infrastructure such as sewage systems and sewage treatment plants including the ones in Thunder Bay," Watkins writes.
"Even with this clear foreseeability and numerous reports confirming this awareness, they did little or nothing to prepare Thunder Bay and its citizens for the onslaught they knew or ought to have known was coming."
Public meetings on both class-action lawsuits are scheduled for later this week. Interested parties can express interest on www.watkinslawforthepeople.com.
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