Province tackles Hawkesbury cleanup
Community group says plan to address waterfront falls short
For decades, the Town of Hawkesbury has lived with the fact that its downtown waterfront was a dump for a paper mill, one permitted by the Ontario government.
Now the province is pushing ahead to clean up some of that waterfront, but a community group says the plan falls far short.
Hawkesbury, on the Ottawa River, was a popular place to build a mill, with 22 of them operating in the early 19th century. Canadian International Pulp and Paper (CIP) was one of the big mills in the 20th century, providing some of the highest-paid jobs in town with its paper-making operation. It closed in 1982, putting 440 people out of work.
The province allowed CIP to dump cellulose waste into a “wet lagoon” in the river, some of which was pulled out and placed in “dry lagoons” nearby. The province even allowed the wet lagoon to be used as a landfill for mill buildings being demolished in the 1980s. CIP was allowed to walk away from the mess without providing compensation.
Ever since, the lagoon has been a smelly reminder of how pollution and a lack of public vigilance can harm development of a community. While waterfronts have become attractions for citizens and visitors in other Ontario communities, such as Pembroke and Brockville, Hawkesbury’s is an eyesore and considered an unusable safety hazard by the Ministry of Natural Resources.
After many years of tests, reports and lobbying, the Ministry of Natural Resources is inviting companies to bid on a project to have sludge taken out of the wet lagoon and placed on the western portion of the site, covered with at least 0.76 metres of soil, which would be planted with grass. Pipes would be installed in the hills of sludge to vent methane gas. The project would cost $20 million.
Jean-Marc Lalonde, the MPP for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, says he supports the project as proposed because that’s what the government’s engineering experts have recommended and the result will be a beautiful park. Gardens, paths and benches would be installed. Lalonde says moving all of the contamination out of the town would cost up to $60 million. He said that kind of spending was not needed to create open greenspace. He doesn’t want the waterfront to become a development site.
However, a citizens’ group headed by Hawkesbury businessman René Berthiaume calls the proposed project a capped landfill that, he says, will only be a monument to the legacy of pollution left by CIP and allowed by former provincial governments. Berthiaume, a former federal candidate, says Hawkesbury’s waterfront is its future as a community and it should be used as open space and for carefully thought out development.
Berthiaume says that his group, the Hawkesbury Waterfront Development Corporation, wants a true remediation done. He says the group has talked to an engineering firm that believes the material can be taken out of the lagoon, dried and treated, then used as a soil conditioner. He says there’s no reason to leave hills of the stuff above ground.
Berthiaume says the waterfront corporation believes full remediation of the public property can be done for the $20 million, with the public property on that part of the river returned to its natural state. He says the province could fix the process by making a minor amendment to the project-bidding document, allowing companies to do a full remediation.
Berthiaume’s group has been working to raise awareness about the project and have it changed. It will hold a public meeting in Hawkesbury on Sept. 14, when one of the options to be discussed will be the possibility of a legal challenge.
Meredith Brown, the Riverkeeper of the Ottawa River, says the province should help Hawkesbury do a full clean-up of the site since the province let CIP walk away in the 1980s.
Alex Gardner, district manager of the Ministry of Natural Resources, said the ministry was open to “innovative solutions.” He said the substantial work of the project would begin next summer and take three to four years to complete.
Hawkesbury area MPP Jean Marc Lalonde supports the existing plan on the recommendation of the government’s engineering experts.