The mayors of three Exploits Valley communities were not surprised by the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision Dec. 7 in favour of AbitibiBowater.
However, Bob Hobbs of Bishop’s Falls, Botwood’s Jerry Dean and Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins agreed they were disappointed by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the province, who wanted the bankrupt newsprint giant to pay for the environmental cleanup.
The three towns had been economically connected to Abitibi and its precursors for a century, including paper manufacturing to power, employment and shipping.
“I’m not surprised. What else can you say? It is what it is,” said Mayor Hobbs. “They (government) just have to do what has to be done. We expect our citizens to do what is responsible, and there are standards that apply to everybody.”
Mayor Hobbs was optimistic that the province will eventually take over remediation of Abitibi properties in the area. He said he is looking forward to seeing it all cleaned up, and that something will come that will bring some business into the area.
Mayor Dean called the news from the Supreme Court a “disappointing ruling,” as far as he was concerned.
“We’ve seen a lot of disappointments in this town and region because of the Abitibi presence, and this is just one more way of adding insult to injury,” he said.
As far as Botwood is concerned, if there is any cleanup anywhere, it should address the town’s harbour, according to Mayor Dean. He cited some remarks by former premier Tom Rideout in relation to the state of the port.
“There’s still his famous comments about environmental concerns about the harbour, and as far as we’re concerned, that’s associated with the Abitibi presence,” he added. “If that’s going to act in any preventive way from us moving ahead with any kind of port development, someone’s going to have to answer for it.”
Mayor Hawkins didn’t think the Supreme Court would announce a complete about-face on the contamination issue. Previous decisions from Quebec’s Supreme Court (Abitibi is based in that province) had ruled in favour of the company earlier, as reported in past issues of the Advertiser.
“Obviously I was somewhat surprised because I think when you have polluters that come in and pollute the area, they certainly should be held responsible for the pollution,” said Mayor Hawkins. “Now the decision has been made, we just have to move on.”
The condition of the Abitibi properties could be a factor for a company considering setting up operations in the region, such as proposals for the Grand Falls-Windsor mill, according to Mayor Hawkins.
“No one would want to come in and assume that liability,” he said. “I think there would have to be arrangements, particularly if it’s going to be in the manufacturing area. It will be interesting to see how the province will be approaching the remediation now because, from the Supreme Court (decision), they are responsible for that.
“I think the province is going to look at how they are going to proceed with the cleanup, and part of that would be another assessment of exactly how much pollution there is in the area.”