The structure that was the backbone of Grand Falls-Windsor for over a century, now has residents left wondering much longer it will be standing.
The old Abitibi-Bowater mill, besides a handful of maintenance and security staff, has been all but vacant since it produced its last roll of paper in 2009.
Kevin Whiffen worked at the mill for over three decades. After it closed, leaving hundreds jobless, Whiffen was lucky enough to be employed by the provincial government for security and maintenance of the structure.
Whiffen knows first hand the state of the building, and told the Advertiser some of the issues with the structure.
“We don’t go in the mill much anymore unless someone requests to go in and look at the machinery or something,” he said.
According to Whiffen, no one is allowed to enter the mill without a permit, and those who enter must be in contact with the security staff via radio.
Whiffen said he’s not sure if it’s mandatory to wear a mask or respirator when entering the building, but knows some people choose to.
“There’s (ceiling) tiles down there that have dropped off that I believe have asbestos in them,” he said, adding that there’s plenty of mold forming inside the building.
“There’s water everywhere – she’s leaking,” he said. “It’s been a little over three years now, and there’s very little maintenance on the roof down there.”
Whiffen said there isn’t enough water in most parts of the structure to be considered flooding, and that you can still walk around in just work boots. He said the only part of the mill he knows of where there has been flooding is in the wood room.
“There’s a basement there that’s about 15 feet deep, and we’re pumping that out all the time to keep the water down,” he said. “Over the winter now when it freezes over it’ll fill up a little bit…we might get three to four feet of water down there.”
Whiffen said some of the machinery has been maintained enough that it might be of use to another company or industry, and added he can see the paper shed being used for storage in the future. He said he’s not sure what else from the building could be salvageable.
“In my opinion, some of it is going to go,” said Whiffen. “Some of it is gone to the point now where it’s just going to have to go.”
The Advertiser’s request to enter the building for a photograph was denied by the Department of Transportation and Works – the provincial department responsible for the mill – for safety reasons.
Transportation and Works Minister Thomas Hedderson was not available for an interview by the Advertiser’s deadline, but his communications department responded with the following prepared statement:
“The Provincial Government assumed control over the Abitibi Bowater property in Grand Falls-Windsor when it was expropriated, and has maintained stewardship over the property since.
“The Department of Transportation and Works is currently in the planning stages to pursue remediation work on the roof of the structure as part of maintaining it while the future of the property is determined.”
The Advertiser wants to hear from you; what do you think should happen to the former Abitibi-Bowater mill structure? Send your comments to email@example.com.