Dewey feels his arrest for being at Deer Lake Canal was unjustified and vows to keep fighting
DEER LAKE — Richard Dewey has never been afraid to let his voice be heard on the issue of drinking water quality in Deer Lake.
Now he’s worried that being the squeaky wheel is going to get him more than the grease he’s been demanding.
On June 4, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper began retrieving 55 metal barrels believed to have been submerged in the Deer Lake Canal in the 1950s or possibly even earlier.
The cleanup is in large part due to the public attention Dewey had drawn to the presence of materials in the canal, which serves as the drinking water supply for the towns of Deer Lake and Reidville.
He’s began contacting the province about the issue in 2016. He said a Deer Lake Power employee alerted him to the discarded debris under the water and he has been on a mission to find out where it is and what it is ever since.
He has concerns that the unnatural items in the canal are contaminating the drinking water and potentially having ill effects on people who consume it regularly.
After years of trying to get the paper company and the provincial government to do something about it, he finally posted a video of what he had found under the water on YouTube.
The media coverage resulting from that video led to an investigation into what was in the canal and the provincial government’s announcement in 2017 that a cleanup was in the works.
On May 31, three days before the project commenced, Dewey went to the Deer Lake Power plant area, something he has done on numerous occasions.
While the canal area had always traditionally been open to the public, the paper company had hired security and was restricting access in preparation for the cleanup work.
Dewey, who said he went to the area to take photos and videos, was later arrested by police at his home. He said he was charged with mischief and released only after agreeing to sign an undertaking that included a condition to stay away from the power plant premises.
“I don’t even know what that means,” Dewey said of the mischief allegation, adding that he did have a conversation with some of the workers there but never touched anything.
According to the RCMP, a complaint of trespassing had been received from Deer Lake Power shortly after 9 a.m. on May 31. The police confirmed a man had been arrested, but no charge had been filed as of Thursday morning.
The police did say a charge of mischief was pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation.
“This is their way of obviously keeping me away from letting everybody know what’s happening,” said Dewey.
During a media tour of the cleanup site Monday, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper general manager Darren Pelley would not comment about Dewey’s arrest, saying it was now a police matter.
Being arrested is frustrating for Dewey since he feels he’s responsible for the cleanup being initiated in the first place. He said the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment and the paper company have asked him for his help in pinpointing the exact location of the materials below the canal’s surface.
“For the first time, I could have a criminal record,” said Dewey. “At my age, it’s disappointing to see that possibility. It could limit me from travelling and affect (me) in negative ways and all because I’m a citizen concerned about what we’ve been feeding our residents here.”
The provincial environment department and the Town of Deer Lake have said extensive testing of the water, which is being done during the cleanup and will continue after the job is completed later this week, has indicated there is no cause for concern about the municipal drinking water supply.
Dewey believes there are parameters not being tested for, though the province has said in the past that it has been doing specialized chemical testing in the canal.
He also contends there is more foreign material in the canal than the 55 barrels identified for removal and feels the company is doing only the bare minimum it needs to.
The company has said it has done a full assessment of the canal and that the barrels are the only items that require removal. The company has confirmed there are sunken barges in the canal, but removing them would only cause unnecessary disturbance of sediment as the barges are made of just metal and untreated lumber.
News of Dewey’s arrest, which he posted about on social media, even drew a response from Erin Brockovich, an environmental activist from California whose work in successfully suing Pacific Gas and Electric over contamination of drinking water in Hinkley, Calif., led to the 2000 feature film “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts.
“This clean up would never have happened if not for the hard fought efforts of local activist Richard Dewey... he’s my HERO! His reward... Mr. Dewey was arrested under orders from Corner Brook Pulp and Paper,” reads the post on Brockovich’s Facebook account.
Dewey said the undertaking he signed may prohibit him from going back to the canal area for the time being, but he said he is not done with his fight to ensure the issue of materials in the canal is dealt with completely.
“They’re removing what they got caught with, in my view,” said Dewey. “They can do this right now, or I can continue on fighting for this cleanup. They have the chance now to clean it all up, so let’s do it.”
Dewey is also one of several Deer Lake residents involved in a lawsuit against Corner Brook Pulp and Paper alleging property damage caused by seeping water from the canal.
That matter is still in the process of being certified as a classaction lawsuit.
Richard Dewey of Deer Lake has been fighting to have the town’s water supply cleaned up since 2016.