The purpose of this letter is to comment on the recent debate about the expropriation of the former Abitibi assets by the province. Many people are pointing the finger at the government for making a blunder regarding expropriation and having the properties that were not wanted included in the legislation.
There are a couple of things that strike me odd about all of this. First of all, this idea of making the paper companies out to be some sort of bad guy in all of this. While they may not be angels, they have not been given any credit for things they did do. Keep in mind that the paper industry did supply jobs to this area for nearly 100 years. In fact, the companies pretty well built the town in the early years supplying hospitals, roads, homes and the local Joe Byrne stadium that are still here to this day. The company and the men who worked at the mill supported local organizations for many years. The sad truth is that the industry is in decline as newsprint demand decreases. If that did not happen there would still be an operating mill.
Others blame the provincial government and stating this familiar phrase "my tax dollars being spent for the security and future cleanup of the former mill". What many seem to forget is that at this point, money is being made on the power assets that the taxpayer has not paid for yet. The cleanup is still in the future and even though there is the expense for the security of the mill, the money is going toward jobs for people who are now working at the mill site. When you add it up to this point, the province is ahead financially. The bottom line is the government had to act fast in regard to the expropriation and unfortunately mistakes did happen. What if they didn't act, what kind of mess would we have been in?
In regard to the environmental concerns that have become a political football as of late, there are a couple of things I like to comment on. First of all, if the mill had continued operate for another 50 years, I doubt we would have heard anything about the environmental mess on the mill site. Is the mess that big a deal right now? The area is fenced of and secure, so access is limited. Now I am not saying the site should not be cleaned up along with Buchans and other areas, but it does not have to be cleaned up over night. Many are complaining that now the province could be on the hook for the cleanup because of the error in the expropriation. However, I think even if there wasn't a mistake in the expropriation and the province wanted the sites cleaned we would have to do it. Abitibi is in no position from a financial standpoint to do it. From the look of it they won't be in position to do it in the foreseeable future. While many don't like it, it is the way it is. If Abitibi were forced to clean the sites up they could go bankrupt. Some may say let it happen. Remember that even though the mill is no longer here, money in the form of pensions is still coming in and many in this town depend on it, so seeing Abitibi go out of business is not something that (we) wish to see. Remember the old adage, cutting your nose off to spite your face.
Like it or not, the province now owns the mill site, which is an expense along with the profitable hydro generating stations. Regarding the mill site I have a number of questions, the first being can the former mill be turned into a manufacturing facility of some sort again? Many will say no, but can it? Keep in mind that the timber is still there along with the power. Can any of the equipment at the site be used?
When I was a teenager, I remember the Come By Chance refinery closing. Oil was not in our future at the time, but the oil refinery was maintained for years and now is back in operation. Oil is a resource; so are the power and wood. My question is, can it be used for anything else? I don't pretend to know if it is or not, but, it would be good to know.
Okay, let's say we do have to do the environmental cleanup of the mill site and others such as Buchans. Let's also say the price tag for the cleanup is the $200 million that is being tossed around. Does the cleanup have to be done right away all at one time? Or, can it be done over a number of years?
The evidence seems to support that we do have time. What if the cleanup was done over a period of 20 years. For argument purposes lets use the $200 million figure that the final cost of the cleanup will be.
Divided over the 20 years, it would mean that $10 million a year could be dedicated to the cleanup. Where could this money come from? Well, aren't the former Abitibi generating stations making money? There is no doubt they are and will in the future. The exact amount made is debatable, but taking $10 million a year or a percentage from this source could be possible. Some may say that 20 years is too long. In the grand scheme of things it really isn't. For those of us over 40, 20 years was like yesterday. Buchans mines have been closed now for nearly 30 years. If something like this were put in place, there would be no environmental mess in the town now.
Also, I think there is a benefit to this that many miss. Let's just say that government committed the 10 million a year to be taken from the profit from the generating stations for the next 20 years and in addition decided to provide the opportunity for local business to do the work. I think that a new business or industry dealing with environmental cleanup could be established here. If there's a demand, someone will take the plunge. It could provide employment and if the business became skilled as I think it would, those skills could be marketable outside the region. One thing is for certain, the issue regarding our environment is only going to increase in importance in the years to come. If we can build the expertise here by doing the cleanup ourselves, who knows. I bet the areas being threatening by the recent oil spill (in the Gulf of Mexico) want that expertise right now.
I don't claim to know all the answers, but, this pointing fingers and playing politics is not beneficial to us. Looking at the situation as it sits and planning for the future is what we need to be doing. It is easy to be critical; how about some proposed solutions. My suggestion may not be acceptable, but, it is better than just howling at the moon.