17 May 2010

Buchans saga deepens: Johnson claims credit for Abitibi work

CBC may have retracted its story about the provincial government and possible lead pollution at a former mine in Buchans but that isn’t the end of the Buchans saga.

As CBC quoted it:

"We held a town meeting. The public meeting was in fact reported on. That site was, in fact, remediated that very summer," Environment Minister Charlene Johnson told the legislature on Monday.

Johnson told the legislature that:

Mr. Speaker, quickly we hired a consultant to go out and do a Human Health Risk Assessment. That piece of work was done in literally less than months. The report came to our office in December 2007, at which time my officials went out to the Town of Buchans, gave the report to the Town of Buchans in less than days. The Town of Buchans at that time, Mr. Speaker, asked to have a public meeting. That public meeting was held and my officials were there. In fact, Mr. Speaker, CBC carried the reports of that within days after the public meeting.

But the full story is very different.

According to the Grand Falls-Windsor Advertiser, the environmental review was done by AMEC, a consultant retained by Abitibi. And the timeline for when the town council first learned of the problem was the spring of 2007, not late 2007 or early 2008 as Johnson suggested in the House of Assembly:

With ASARCO declaring bankruptcy a number of years ago, AbitibiBowater is left bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the site.

It wasn't until a representative with AMEC, a consultant for AbitibiBowater, met with the Buchans council last spring to update its members on environmental improvements that the town's municipal leaders became aware of the situation.

It wasn’t until six months later, in the fall of 2007 – when current MHA Susan Sullivan was fighting for her seat in a by-election - that the provincial government got involved as Johnson described.  According to the Advertiser:

The council contacted Susan Sullivan in November, who was campaigning for her seat as MHA for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans at the time, for an immediate meeting.

She visited the town to hear their concerns and brought the council's demand for a complete human health risk study to the minister of environment.

The Buchans story demolishes the provincial government’s efforts to portray Abitibi as abandoning its responsibilities in the province.

Again, as the Advertiser reported well before the botched expropriation:

Remedial action and/or additional studies in the area were recommended.

And that is exactly what AbibitiBowater and AMEC intend to do, although it will be a costly venture. Already the paper company has anywhere from $1.6-2.5 million budgeted for the clean-up.

If that's not enough, they are prepared to spend more to ensure the job is finished.

"The day we ask for a certificate of approval from the government to carry out the work, we have to carry it out to the end and if it costs more, we're stuck with it; we have to do it," said Nicole Lee, environment manager with AbitibiBowater.

The Advertiser reported that the best containment option at that point seemed to be collecting the contaminated materials and burying them in a glory hole or in an abandoned mine.  The Advertiser also reported in March 2008 that both a mining company and the provincial natural resources department opposed this option.

Interestingly enough, when the provincial government finally announced the clean-up option for the land it expropriated, a new remediation proposal cropped up:  cover it over.  Again as the Advertiser reported in late 2009:

He said that of all the option open to his department the "cap in place" option was the best because it would among other things minimize the amount of dust created during construction and wouldn't affect future mining operations. SNC Lavalin has been contracted for $114,000 to prepare and tended documents that are hoped to be ready by late spring with construction to be carried out from June to September. As well as the tailings spill area, the identified arsenic problem by the old ore shed will be taken care of with a layer of berm. [Emphasis added]