Who owns the pollution?

James
James McLeod
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Documents raise ownership questions at former Abitibi sites

As the provincial government works to deal with environmental aftermath from paper-giant AbitibiBowater's industrial activities in the province, the question of who owns what becomes an increasingly complex matter.

According to documents released to The Telegram, many of the sites the province wants AbitibiBowater to clean up were sold or given up decades ago - and in some cases AbitibiBowater may not have even caused the pollution in the first place.

As the provincial government works to deal with environmental aftermath from paper-giant AbitibiBowater's industrial activities in the province, the question of who owns what becomes an increasingly complex matter.

According to documents released to The Telegram, many of the sites the province wants AbitibiBowater to clean up were sold or given up decades ago - and in some cases AbitibiBowater may not have even caused the pollution in the first place.

The company is in bankruptcy protection, so Environment Minister Charlene Johnson issued ministerial orders requiring AbitibiBowater to pay for comprehensive assessments and environmental cleanup on five sites in the province: the shuttered Grand Falls mill, the former Stephenville mill site, its former shipping operations in Botwood, its former mining operations in Buchans and its various logging camps around the province.

Johnson has repeated the province's position whenever the issue comes up: the Environmental Protection Act is clear - the polluter pays.

The Quebec bankruptcy judge who decided the case on March 31 disagreed, saying the province can't demand that Abitibi clean up the Grand Falls mill site after Newfoundland expropriated it from the company.

"This is, at a minimum, rather awkward. The expression 'having your cake and eat it too' comes to mind," Judge Clement Gascon wrote in his decision. "Some would go as far as to say that it is preposterous."

The province has said Gascon made errors of law and was biased against the province. It is in the process of appealing his decision.

The situation gets even more complex when it comes to other sites around the province; in Botwood, many of the properties in question were turned over to the town 15-20 years ago. One area of concern was used to store caustic ash and sulphur until around 1975, but now the town uses it to store sand and salt for winter use.

The mayor of Botwood could not be reached for comment.

The situation is arguably even more complex in Stephenville, where Abitibi closed its paper mill in 2005.

Before 1979, the same site was owned by Labrador Linerboard Ltd. and before that it was owned by the United States Air Force (USAF).

According to the environmental site assessment, there are anecdotal reports that the Stephenville site contains "radium-contaminated hospital waste and explosives from the former USAF operations."

Unlike many of the other sites, Abitibi still owns the property in Stephenville where the mill used to sit. The site is fenced off and the company has posted 24-hour security.

Stephenville Mayor Tom O'Brien said he's satisfied with the situation for the moment, although if the bankruptcy court doesn't make Abitibi clean up the property, O'Brien said he expects the provincial government to foot the bill.

Another tangly question of ownership is in the Abitibi logging camps. According to Conestoga-Rovers and Associates (CRA), which wrote the environmental assessment reports, they reviewed 48 logging sites and inspected 28 camps dating back as far as the 1950s.

The report identifies the presence of heavy metals, carcinogens and other issues in the soil at some of these sites.

Gascon baulked at that notion when presented with the CRA reports. He said Abitibi only has active records for 20 camps, so as far as the company is concerned, the other 28 sites reviewed either don't belong to Abitibi or date back far enough that logging would have been done with horses, thus leaving no pollution.

In any case, if "the polluter pays" it's impossible to determine for sure that it was Abitibi that actually polluted the camps.

"The logging camps report does not segregate the impact of third party activities from what may have resulted from Abitibi's prior activities," Gascon wrote in his decision. "Yet, many such sites have, after dismantling and cleanup by Abitibi, been used for other purposes by third parties, including seasonal fishing or snowmobile camps, cottages and other similar activities."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, United States Air Force, Labrador Linerboard

Geographic location: Abitibi, Stephenville, Botwood Grand Falls Buchans Quebec Newfoundland Conestoga

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Recent comments

  • Old Salt
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    Any issue of pollution is serious and surely must not be set aside where a population's health is at stake.
    However, as I listen to the media talk about the many instances of pollution under current investigation, there is one burning question that comes immediatly to mind and it's this- If these now defunct polluters were currently on-going, successful businesses with a good, healthy financial status, would the government be actively pushing for pollution clean-up ? Why wasn't something like a mandatory five-year review of pollution put in place so that those responsible could at least a) keep ahead of it and b) take measures to minimize any further pollution.
    The attitude of government was purely one of indifference and lackadaisical on such matters. (could the distractions have been caused by attempts to maximize expense accounts ?) There was no talk of risk to health or a need to improve environments then. I acknowlege that we can't go back now and take a different approach but we can take some positive action. Let's take a look at ALL current business/industrial operations and determine NOW whether or not they are causing any degree of pollution and if so, do periodic reviews and clean-ups...AT THE POLLUTERS EXPENSE minister Johnson.

  • Bones
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    don: With the profits Star Lake is making for the provincial coffers, the taxpayers won't be on the hook for additional monies for this cleanup. The 100 million it makes every single year is more than plenty to take care of the harshest judgment against us and, guess what, it will STILL belong to us and STILL be generating that profit. You see, don, that's the big picture you do not see. Other obvious facts that are ignored by you and the other haters are the fact that AB also wouldn't be on the hook for it if they had sold it either, of if they had bankrupted, or if they had a Quebec judge rule they weren't. The bottom line here is that NL owns those assets and they will generate enough income to have the sites cleaned, no problem. It will generate enough income to pay AB 500 million, like that will ever become a reality anyway, lol, That wonderful company is even willing to leave an 80yr old lady high and dry. I highly doubt they will get any sympathy from the NL population and you should be ashamed for promoting such hatred in a public forum. I honestly hope you don't have children that are learning to rant and rave this way, and if you do, you should stop kissing them goodnight with that mouth, lol.

  • Lloyd
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Who owns the pollution? br We do, the taxpayers of theprovince. br We expropriated it, intentionally or otherwise, so it's ours. br Abitibi once owned it when they became the owners after the Anglo Nfld Co. br If government did NOT know about the pollution (they certainly should have)then it shows clearly they either do not know what is going on in theprovince, or they allow it to go on. br Government makes (and enforces haha) the environment regulations, don't they? br Even if they didn't intend to expropriate the property, how on earth did they expect to get the money for the clean-up from a bankrupt company? I have heard you cannot get blood from a turnip.

  • don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:29

    Dictator Danny ordered that Abitibi be expropriated right away without giving the Government lawyers a chance to undertake proper due diligence. Danny wanted the Government to grab the Abitibi assets right away. In their haste to obey the little dictator, it appears the Government lawyers made huge mistakes and expropriated assets and liabilities of Abitibi which the Government should not have acquired. Too bad for the Government, it's their problem now! Despite trying to blame Abitibi for pollution that it did not create, it is the Government which bears direct responsibility for not properly policing and regulating the sites in question in order to prevent or minimize pollution of the sites in the first place. The Government, acting on Dictator Danny's angry orders expropriated Abitibi in haste and acquired a real mess both legally and literally. Danny wanted Abitibi, now he has what he wanted! Dictator Danny ordered his minions to expropriate Abitibi and they wound up with a pig in a poke! Maybe Danny has discovered that sometimes wanting something is better than actually having it! I am waiting for the truth to come out on this mess and it will. What other major mistakes are Dictator Danny and his cronies responsible for that they have not admitted to or we have not found out about yet?

  • DB
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    You think that piece of dirt that Abitibi once owned is polution, at least it can be cleaned up.Why don't you slack jawers get in your cars and drive up the Baie Verte sometime and see the hole in the ground left by the asbestos mine that can never be cleaned up then you can talk polution and mass distruction of our once virgn province.

  • don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:24

    Bones: What are you saying? Just because Newfoundland and Labrador has some revenue coming into its coffers doesn't give Dictator Danny the right to waste that money paying for huge mistakes that he shouldn't have made in the first place. How did this guy become a multimillionaire in the first place anyway? Somebody else must have managed his business and investments and helped him get dressed in the morning because based on the way he runs the Government I don't think he could manage his way out of a wet paper bag! I guess like Joey Smallwood before him, Danny was born with the gift of gab and a huge out of control ego. Apparently that's all it takes to get elected Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • Gerry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Bones, you should know by now with all of ol' Don's posts that it would appear the sinking of the Titanic is personally the fault of Williams. It was funny at first, but now it's same old verbal spew over & over & over....I just wish he would give it up...

  • Don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Guess you have to take the bad with the good. The government rushed this expropriation without proper study, or forethought, without any thought what-so-ever, so they could get their hands on the power, the millions of dollars worth the power. Now deal with the consequences .... get your mops and buckets out and get cleaning. Looks good on you.

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Fighting these battles through the courts may be seen as the honourable way , but , the end result is the same , the people of this province maybe living at great risk ....

  • Nasty
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    What a silly question. King Danny stole it, so he get's whats coming. No sense crying over ill gotten gains now is there?

  • member of the 20%
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    Good luck with that Charlene; I'll bet that you and I as taxpayers will foot the bill at the end of the day. Not only for the cleanup, but huge legal bills due to total incompetence by the Williams administration and so-called legal experts within departments of Johnson and Stunderdale. Add this fiasco to the lengthy list of monumental blunders of Little Man Dan's legacy.

  • Old Salt
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    Any issue of pollution is serious and surely must not be set aside where a population's health is at stake.
    However, as I listen to the media talk about the many instances of pollution under current investigation, there is one burning question that comes immediatly to mind and it's this- If these now defunct polluters were currently on-going, successful businesses with a good, healthy financial status, would the government be actively pushing for pollution clean-up ? Why wasn't something like a mandatory five-year review of pollution put in place so that those responsible could at least a) keep ahead of it and b) take measures to minimize any further pollution.
    The attitude of government was purely one of indifference and lackadaisical on such matters. (could the distractions have been caused by attempts to maximize expense accounts ?) There was no talk of risk to health or a need to improve environments then. I acknowlege that we can't go back now and take a different approach but we can take some positive action. Let's take a look at ALL current business/industrial operations and determine NOW whether or not they are causing any degree of pollution and if so, do periodic reviews and clean-ups...AT THE POLLUTERS EXPENSE minister Johnson.

  • Bones
    July 01, 2010 - 20:19

    don: With the profits Star Lake is making for the provincial coffers, the taxpayers won't be on the hook for additional monies for this cleanup. The 100 million it makes every single year is more than plenty to take care of the harshest judgment against us and, guess what, it will STILL belong to us and STILL be generating that profit. You see, don, that's the big picture you do not see. Other obvious facts that are ignored by you and the other haters are the fact that AB also wouldn't be on the hook for it if they had sold it either, of if they had bankrupted, or if they had a Quebec judge rule they weren't. The bottom line here is that NL owns those assets and they will generate enough income to have the sites cleaned, no problem. It will generate enough income to pay AB 500 million, like that will ever become a reality anyway, lol, That wonderful company is even willing to leave an 80yr old lady high and dry. I highly doubt they will get any sympathy from the NL population and you should be ashamed for promoting such hatred in a public forum. I honestly hope you don't have children that are learning to rant and rave this way, and if you do, you should stop kissing them goodnight with that mouth, lol.

  • Lloyd
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Who owns the pollution? br We do, the taxpayers of theprovince. br We expropriated it, intentionally or otherwise, so it's ours. br Abitibi once owned it when they became the owners after the Anglo Nfld Co. br If government did NOT know about the pollution (they certainly should have)then it shows clearly they either do not know what is going on in theprovince, or they allow it to go on. br Government makes (and enforces haha) the environment regulations, don't they? br Even if they didn't intend to expropriate the property, how on earth did they expect to get the money for the clean-up from a bankrupt company? I have heard you cannot get blood from a turnip.

  • don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    Dictator Danny ordered that Abitibi be expropriated right away without giving the Government lawyers a chance to undertake proper due diligence. Danny wanted the Government to grab the Abitibi assets right away. In their haste to obey the little dictator, it appears the Government lawyers made huge mistakes and expropriated assets and liabilities of Abitibi which the Government should not have acquired. Too bad for the Government, it's their problem now! Despite trying to blame Abitibi for pollution that it did not create, it is the Government which bears direct responsibility for not properly policing and regulating the sites in question in order to prevent or minimize pollution of the sites in the first place. The Government, acting on Dictator Danny's angry orders expropriated Abitibi in haste and acquired a real mess both legally and literally. Danny wanted Abitibi, now he has what he wanted! Dictator Danny ordered his minions to expropriate Abitibi and they wound up with a pig in a poke! Maybe Danny has discovered that sometimes wanting something is better than actually having it! I am waiting for the truth to come out on this mess and it will. What other major mistakes are Dictator Danny and his cronies responsible for that they have not admitted to or we have not found out about yet?

  • DB
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    You think that piece of dirt that Abitibi once owned is polution, at least it can be cleaned up.Why don't you slack jawers get in your cars and drive up the Baie Verte sometime and see the hole in the ground left by the asbestos mine that can never be cleaned up then you can talk polution and mass distruction of our once virgn province.

  • don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    Bones: What are you saying? Just because Newfoundland and Labrador has some revenue coming into its coffers doesn't give Dictator Danny the right to waste that money paying for huge mistakes that he shouldn't have made in the first place. How did this guy become a multimillionaire in the first place anyway? Somebody else must have managed his business and investments and helped him get dressed in the morning because based on the way he runs the Government I don't think he could manage his way out of a wet paper bag! I guess like Joey Smallwood before him, Danny was born with the gift of gab and a huge out of control ego. Apparently that's all it takes to get elected Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • Gerry
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Bones, you should know by now with all of ol' Don's posts that it would appear the sinking of the Titanic is personally the fault of Williams. It was funny at first, but now it's same old verbal spew over & over & over....I just wish he would give it up...

  • Don
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Guess you have to take the bad with the good. The government rushed this expropriation without proper study, or forethought, without any thought what-so-ever, so they could get their hands on the power, the millions of dollars worth the power. Now deal with the consequences .... get your mops and buckets out and get cleaning. Looks good on you.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    Fighting these battles through the courts may be seen as the honourable way , but , the end result is the same , the people of this province maybe living at great risk ....

  • Nasty
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    What a silly question. King Danny stole it, so he get's whats coming. No sense crying over ill gotten gains now is there?

  • member of the 20%
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    Good luck with that Charlene; I'll bet that you and I as taxpayers will foot the bill at the end of the day. Not only for the cleanup, but huge legal bills due to total incompetence by the Williams administration and so-called legal experts within departments of Johnson and Stunderdale. Add this fiasco to the lengthy list of monumental blunders of Little Man Dan's legacy.