Province commits $85 million for river cleanup

MOECC pressuring Domtar to get involved in mill site search for ongoing contamination

By Chris Marchand

An effort to clean up mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system is moving forward with the announcement of $85 million in dedicated funding, June 28, and the Province is hoping a skittish Domtar will assist them in getting to the bottom of some unanswered questions on the mill site.

Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray says his ministry and the Dryden mill site operators have butted heads in recent weeks over Domtar’s unwillingness to grant access to First Nations groups without ministry escorts. 

Domtar’s stance to this point has been one of a disinterested third party, flatly any rejecting responsibility for potential mercury contamination based on a 1979 agreement which indemnified all subsequent owners of the Dryden mill site from responsibility for future environmental liabilities.

But Murray says after ministry teams were unable to determine what could be causing ongoing contamination following recent site testing, those who know the mill site best (Domtar) have been ordered to take a look at monitoring assets beyond the scope of the ministry’s initial investigation.

“We’ve never asked Domtar to pay for anything,” Murray told Acadia Broadcasting last week. “The concentrations of mercury in the river adjacent to the Domtar site gave us cause to believe that there may be a secondary, or ongoing, or new source that wasn’t contained. Domtar, because it reported, has some of its own wells that are not part of the monitoring regime established by the ministry. At that point the ministry science team and enforcement team came to the conclusion that an order was required on Domtar to have them search their site, identify their wells and determine with the infrastructure that quite frankly, only they know about, whether or not they were able to find a leak or even a leak that has emerged even from old contamination. We asked them, as we ask all companies to come up with a plan to remediate that.”

Murray continued,  “They can ask for money from the Ministry, we weren’t holding a gun to their head. Now they’ve not been very cooperative on that and we’ve had difficulties with them before because they would only allow First Nations and Grassy Narrows people on site with Ministry officials. If Domtar does not do this work that has been asked of them, we have unfettered access to the site to do enforcement, we will simply send our teams in to do those measures and make those assessments.”

A statement from Domtar says the company “…appreciates Minister Murray’s clarification that the provincial government is not seeking to impose the costs of additional mercury sampling or remediation work on the company. This is a welcome development.”

The company re-iterated that it has never used mercury at the Dryden mill site and has voluntarily performed additional survey work on the mill property under the supervision of MOECC and Grassy Narrows representatives and shared historical mercury sampling data.

“Several weeks ago, the government proposed a draft Order to compel Domtar to conduct more sampling for mercury. While the company continues to be willing to provide the MOECC with any access it requires to complete this work, Domtar will challenge any Order that seeks to compel the company to undertake activities that are clearly the responsibility of the Province.”

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