Dewey feels his ar­rest for be­ing at Deer Lake Canal was un­jus­ti­fied and vows to keep fighting

The Western Star - - CLOSE TO HOME -

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.

SUB­MIT­TED

Richard Dewey of Deer Lake has been fighting to have the town’s wa­ter sup­ply cleaned up since 2016.

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