Storage tank at vacant Port Alice, B.C. pulp mill collapses, prompting spill hazard fears

A view of the collapsed roof of the old pulp mill in Port Alice, B.C. on Jan. 31, 2020.
A view of the collapsed roof of the old pulp mill in Port Alice, B.C. on Jan. 31, 2020. Douglas Bradshaw/Port Alice Photography/Facebook

Residents in northern Vancouver Island are growing worried about a potential environmental disaster near Port Alice, where heavy rains have damaged a storage tank at a long-closed pulp mill.

Photos of the crumpled roof of the tank at the Neucel pulp mill were posted to social media Thursday by local photographer Douglas Bradshaw.

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In an email Saturday, Bradshaw said the site has been sitting as an “environmental time bomb” since the mill shuttered operations and laid off a majority of its employees five years ago.

“I posted the photos to bring awareness to the mess that has been predicted and is currently going on,” he said. “There is still many toxic chemicals and oils still on site.”

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According to Bradshaw, the tank contains “heavy liquor” released from pulpwood during the kraft process.

In a statement, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said it is aware of the damage to the tank, which happened last week, and has sent an engineer to assess its structural integrity.

“The engineer’s report will inform how we move the contents safely to a more secure tank, or for disposal, as appropriate,” the ministry said.

Last February, the mill’s China-based owner Neucel Specialty Cellulose Ltd. laid off all remaining workers at the mill, fully shutting down the site that had been gradually curtailing operations since 2015.

After the closure, the ministry conducted an on-site hazard assessment and discovered the mill was “in derelict condition with multiple hazards,” it said.

The ministry says it has hired a contractor to support the removal of chemicals and other hazards, and it taking action to protect the environment from active or imminent spills.

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But Bradshaw says he hasn’t seen any such action.

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“Since the [ministry] has come on site they have not followed their own rules that they cited the mill for,” he wrote in his email, adding the public costs of the ministry’s oversight are beginning to add up into the millions of dollars.
“The [ministry] is not monitoring the site properly,” he said. “They have a site security round the clock but they are not properly dealing with the effluent from the land fill and mill site.”

Global News has reached back to the ministry for comment on Bradshaw’s allegations.

In 2014, Neucel was convicted and fined $175,000 for exceeding authorized levels of discharge into Neroutsos Inlet.

—With files from the Canadian Press

Will charges ever be laid in the Mt. Polley mine disaster?
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