WRITTEN BY DEBRA LYNN
The dormant Port Alice pulp mill, owned by bankrupt company Neucel Specialty Cellulose (which in turn is owned by Fulida Holdings, a large private Chinese textiles company) is presently under control of a court-appointed receiver, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC).
According to PWC vice-president Lucas Matsuda, it will take “a number of years to fully clean up” the mill site.
Presently, the company is overseeing three main tasks: de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring.
Matsuda outlined that de-risking involves includes the identification, removal and/or disposal of hazardous chemicals and proper storage of materials. It also includes moving equipment and materials away from the water, clearing paths and roadways and treating an infestation of knotweed. Dangerous structural issues are either repaired or removed. For this process, PWC has employed a number of North Island businesses.
In the category of water treatment, they are testing and treating the water collected on site and shipping more corrosive water offsite for disposal.
Environmental monitoring includes monitoring water levels around the site to ensure that treated water is compliant with various permits. Although the stage of the environmental recovery is not known, according to Matsuda, “since the mill shut down in 2015, marine life has commenced returning to Neroutsos Inlet.”
Matsuda says, “All of the material that is leaving the site is disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. Whenever possible, material is being separated and recycled.” PWC prioritizes awarding contracts to companies that use environmentally sound disposal practices. Any of the salvage that has cash value is invested into further work on the site.
A local, who requested to remain anonymous, has had a glimpse into the somewhat secretive operation and commented that, rather than being demolished, “the mill is being recycled.”
Approximately 25 people are involved with the mill site cleanup; 90 per cent are from the Tri-Port area or Vancouver Island. Out-of-town workers stay in the Tri-Port area. Matsuda states, “Strict COVID-19 protocols are in place for all out-of-town workers.”
Being that the site is an active industrial area, there is an onsite 24/7 security service. They patrol the site, identify and report dangerous events, maintain safety precautions and ensure that anyone entering the site is authorized to do so and that they abide by their COVID-19 Protocol. The security measures also contribute to keeping mill’s state of transformation carefully under wraps: the Gazette was not even allowed in to take a photo.
COVID has impacted the operation significantly, which includes physical changes to the site, getting stocked with PPE and cleaning supplies and the reeducation of site crew and visitors as measures are updated. Matsuda says, “Our COVID-19 protocols meet or exceed government and WorkSafeBC requirements, whether it is questionnaires and temperature readings to enter the site, keeping our work area sanitized (this includes shared equipment) or negative COVID-19 test results for individuals coming from out of province. We are pleased that we have experienced no COVID-19 incidents and we aim to continue in this fashion.”
As for future plans for the mill, Matsuda says that, at this point, they “have not been determined.”
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