Province exploring all options around AbitibiBowater paper mill

‘To demolish a site of this magnitude is not something that happens overnight’

Andrea Gunn
Published on July 19, 2014
The former AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor. — Telegram file photo

More than five years after the former AbitibiBowater paper mill in Grand Falls-Windsor produced its last roll of newsprint, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has the ball rolling for its demolition.

The paper mill ceased production in 2009 and was expropriated by the province. In late 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of Abitibi Bowater when it decided the province was responsible for the remediation of the facility.

Funds for the mill’s demolition were included in this year’s provincial budget.

Though information has been sparse, it was confirmed in May the request for proposals was out. This week, Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath spoke with The Advertiser and divulged more details about the process.

Though there is no timeline in place yet on when the physical work will start on the structure, McGrath said the deadline for proposals is July 25. He said by late summer or early autumn, the province should be in a position to select a proponent and proceed with the work.

“What I’d ask my senior officials, I would certainly want to have it expedited and get this process started because it’s been going on long enough,” McGrath said.

Because the request for proposal (RFP) process is still ongoing, McGrath could not offer any information about the number of applicants so far, or potential cost.

“The whole idea of an RFP rather than a tender is that we didn’t want to be restricted to price only here. With tenders ... you have to go with the lowest bidder unless there’s a reason not to. With an RFP you take other factors into consideration.”

McGrath said decollation of the mill is a complicated job that requires a number of components other than physically tearing down the buildings.

“Facts about what condition the site would be left in, what happens to the salvageable material and who has ownership of the materials afterwards, these are all factors we can consider outside the actual cost of the demolition,” he said.

Though McGrath said the government has received plenty of outside interest in the salvageable materials left in the mill — items ranging from industrial equipment to things like copper and steel — it is being cautious about what happens to it.

“We made a decision a while ago that we can’t have just anybody going in and taking this or taking that because it cuts down on the opportunity we have of having a proponent going in to demolish the complete site and using the salvageable material as part of the cost of demolition,” he said.

For the purpose of this project McGrath says demolition means the complete tearing down of all above-ground infrastructure and disposal of material — either through recycling or other means — and bringing the property back to “brown ground.”

Once the demolition is complete, there is still the question of what will be done with the property, and who will be responsible for the environmental aspect of remediation. It’s difficult to tell how much environmental work will be needed until the properties are gone.

“Once we get back to brown state then we’ll have to decide where do we go. Do we, as a province, decide to remediate the environmental piece or do we offload the property and then they’re responsible for the remediation of the environmental piece. These are things we’ll have to discuss as a government.”

McGrath said the province has been in talks with various stakeholders, including the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, regarding some possibilities about what to do with the property post-demolition.

Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins confirmed the town has spoken with the province about the mill property, and has clearly expressed interest in obtaining the land once the site is remediated.

“We’ve been advocating to have it remediated and passed back to the town. That’s very simple. There are some models in Atlantic Canada where mills have been remediated and the property given back to the town,” Hawkins said.

“Once the land is given back to us we can have more discussions on how we want to see that (land) used in the future.”

McGrath said he knows how anxious residents of the region are to see the old property removed, and assured them the province is working to the best of its ability to do it right and in a timely fashion.

“There’s a process you have to go through. To demolish a site of this magnitude is not something that happens overnight,” he said. “But we would like to see this expedited. The sooner the better.”