Information blackout

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It was already a story that the government was trying to pitch in the quietest way possible: in the town of South Book on Monday, people shouldn’t drink from their municipal water supply. Not just right now, anyway.

Here’s how the provincial government put it in a short news release: “Under a non-consumption water advisory, residents should not drink the water or use it for cooking, washing food, brushing teeth, or making juices, baby formulas and ice.”

But this wasn’t the usual boil-water advisory for problems with a chlorination issue — no, this was a water advisory triggered by the collapse of a mining tailings pond dam upstream of South Brook.

The former Gullbridge copper mine is an orphan mine site, one the province was monitoring, one that government-hired consultants had warned was in trouble. The government isn’t sure just yet what might be in the water. The government isn’t sure, just yet, what contaminants may be involved and where they might have gone. Chances are, if there are serious contaminants, they include heavy metals, often a remnant in metals mine tailings.

There is a whole story there — and a familiar one. It’s the one where mining companies harvest what’s valuable from the ground, make a mess, and then either depart for greener pastures or simply close shop. Right across Canada, there are abandoned mine sites that eat up millions of dollars of cleanup costs, expenses that will never wend their way back to any corporate bottom line. It is a familiar story indeed.

But there’s another story worth thinking about in this case.

You might find the name Gullbridge to be a familiar one.

Why? Because it featured prominently in an editorial in just exactly this spot slightly over a month ago.

The story then was about our efforts to find out just what was going on at the Gullbridge site. The province had budgeted $765,000 to remediate abandoned mines, including Gullbridge. We asked for details under the province’s recently revamped access to information law in May.

Six months later, in early November, we got the response:  54 pages of documents in which every single fact had been scrupulously blacked out. None of the information beyond single lines like “Hope this makes sense” could be released — that information was all cut out to protect cabinet secrecy, to prevent ordinary people from seeing “policy advice” and to protect “the financial/economic interests of a public body.”

So here’s an interesting question: was it in the public interest for people to be aware of the risks that the government knew about after the inspection of an aging tailings pond dam above a municipal water supply?

Apparently not.

No, what was in the public interest, according to the provincial government, was to release page after page of emails and documents with every fact blacked out. Well, maybe not the public interest. Maybe just our government’s own interest.

The new and improved accesss act at work.

Geographic location: South Book, South Brook, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Eli
    December 20, 2012 - 22:26

    Don't worry boys, Gullbridge was another of those environmentally friendly and economically sustainable developements of bygone years. Not to be outdone by her predecessors, Environment minister Charlene Johnson applied the same logic(?) to Vale's Sandy Pond in Long Harbour. But the story here is the Williams legacy of secrecy, exacerbated by Dunderdale, Kennedy, and the rest of those shaggin' money grubbing bobbleheaded PC MHAs.

  • david
    December 20, 2012 - 09:27

    Newfoundland is just a harvesting operation. Whether it was fish or minerals or timber or oil, the place has always been a mis-governed, commercial free-for-all lootbag. It is our destiny to leave here penniless and the island's what we have sown...or allowed to be sown in exchange for a paycheque, if that makes you feel better.

  • varogers
    December 20, 2012 - 09:04

    As you said, every mining company takes what they want from an area and leave a mess behind. When are the actual laws that are currently in place regarding the Environment going to be implemented? There are environmental studies colecting dust on gov shelves in some storage room while the water supply is poisned in surrounding communities. It is shamful the little regard the decision makers give to an essential part of our existance, the water suppy of an island.

  • Corporate Psycho
    December 20, 2012 - 07:59

    The people need to take nl back. The special interests have taken over completely.

  • Steve
    December 20, 2012 - 07:39