Richard Dewey is glad to hear a plan is being made to remove debris from the Humber Canal, but he says it’s only happening because of media attention drawn to the issue.
The Deer Lake resident says he has tried for years to get the provincial government, the Town of Deer Lake and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper to address the issue.
On Monday, the provincial government announced it is working with the Town of Deer Lake and the Town of Reidville, both of which use the canal as their drinking water supply, in anticipation of the paper company submitting a plan to clean up the area.
That news came a year after the province began investigating reports of the presence of unnatural materials in the canal located behind the Deer Lake Power plant. It was eventually revealed that the canal contained equipment and containers related to forestry operations, likely left there in the 1950s.
Dewey said his initial complaints of debris in the water supply didn’t seem to get much attention from officials.
“It was sort of ignored and put on the backburner, so I went down and videotaped what they said they couldn’t find,” Dewey said in an interview this week.
Because his video was too large of a file to email, he posted it on YouTube and then emailed that link to the government. The presence of the online video was also brought to the attention of The Western Star, which eventually published a story detailing some of the events leading up to the province asking Deer Lake Power to look into the issue.
“I’m convinced nothing would have been done about this if the story wasn’t in the media,” said Dewey. “I’m happy it’s going to be addressed, but I’m disappointed it took so long for it to be recognized.”
As for the cleanup plan, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper’s general manager told The Western Star Thursday it is working with environmental engineers to develop an action plan for the best way to go about removing the debris.
Darren Pelley said a full assessment of the canal has been done and the removal and remediation effort will likely be focused on one particular area. He said the project will concentrate on encapsulating a number of submerged containers before removing them in order to create as little disturbance of the water supply as possible.
He said there may be some pieces of steel in the canal that may or may not be removed, depending on whether attempting to remove them will create too much unnecessary disturbance.
Pelley said the company will defer to the experts and the government’s environmental requirements about how to proceed.
“At this point, we don’t know (if any other material will be left),” said Pelley. “We will work with the department of environment and will comply with what’s necessary to protect the area. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and that’s why the immediate focus is on containers.”
The action plan is still being worked on and will be subject to approval by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment before it is executed.
Pelley couldn’t say when the work will be carried out, but said the company wants to take care of it as soon as possible.
“We will move it along as quickly as we can, but the important thing is we take the appropriate time needed to, first and foremost, make sure it’s done correctly,” he said.
Dewey said he would like to see the canal drained to reveal exactly how much debris is in there, and he remains concerned about the drinking water’s quality.
In its release earlier this week, the province said testing of the water supply has shown it is safe to drink.
Dewey wondered if that testing covers parameters not normally tested for, but which could possibly be present in the canal due to the decades-old debris in it.
Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Eddie Joyce, in an interview late Thursday afternoon, said the province has not just been doing the regular bacteriological testing of the water supply. The department has also been conducting specialized chemical testing.
Joyce said the frequency of testing has also been stepped up to being done every two weeks.
The latest tests, he said, indicated there were no issues with the water.
Joyce also said the company’s initial plan to clean up the area, presented to the government in early January, was rejected and the company has been told to draw up a better plan.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said Joyce.
The minister said the new plan must consider any issues with the sediment around the drums the company is planning to remove.