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Pollution problem thing of the past: mayor

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

Stepan's Ramara Township plant is pictured. PACKET & TIMES FILES

Stepan's Ramara Township plant is pictured. PACKET & TIMES FILES

Ramara Township will lose a long-time employer later this year with the province on board to make sure the site cleanup goes smoothly.

 

Earlier this year, Stepan Company announced it will shutter its Longford Mills plant by year’s end, leaving close to 40 people out of work, along with concerns about the remediation work planned for the site that has been home to various industries over the past 100 years.

Although Stepan was cited near the turn of the century with being a major provincial polluter, Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke said it has been an excellent corporate citizen over the years and contributed much to the community.

“I don’t recall ever having pollution issues with Stepan,” Clarke said, adding residents would sometimes call to complain about foam on nearby Lake St. John, but that the substance likely came from an adjacent swamp.

“People just want to assume, with a soap plant, that’s the cause.”

Clarke said Stepan has always followed a strict protocol when dumping water back into the ecosystem by ensuring it has been properly treated to negate any environmental impact.

While a report released in 2004 by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund cited Stepan for 341 wastewater violations in 2001, ranking the company as the second-highest offender in the province that year, it didn’t feature in subsequent studies.

Clarke said lingering concerns from residents regarding the land and potential for finding hazardous materials could be linked to the site’s earlier incarnations hosting a sawmill and, in later years, a chemical plant.

Stepan officials did not return requests for comment about the cleanup, but Gary Wheeler, a spokesperson for the province’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, said ministry staff will meet with Stepan officials later this fall to discuss “their decommissioning and closure plan and will ensure they do not leave behind any environmental risks.”

Wheeler said Stepan informed his department last month it had met with its landlord (Domtar) to discuss closure plans, with an aim to shutter the facility by the end of 2016.

“The ministry’s role is to ensure that the site does not cause, or have the potential to cause, any off-site adverse impacts,” Wheeler said.

Another ministry representative said Domtar still has some responsibility for instances in the past.

“There was a historic spill of PCBs that was cleaned to the ministry’s satisfaction at the site prior to Stepan leasing the facility,” Lindsay Davidson said.

“Domtar continues to conduct sediment sampling and maintains responsibility for any historic PCB impacts at the site.”

Stepan earlier stated the overall plant shutdown will cost about $8 million, with half of that cost being “associated with accelerated depreciation.” Other significant cost components relate to severance and plant shutdown expenses, estimated to be $1 million and $3 million, respectively.

As for the site, Clarke said there’s still hope Stepan or Domtar will find another company to fill the void.

He said the township isn’t in talks regarding acquiring the site since it doesn’t want to end up with a brownfield similar to Orillia’s 255 West St. S., where the city will build its new recreation facility.

“We would be very reluctant to take over that site without soil samples,” Clarke said. “We would do our due diligence.”

The township will also have to decide how to best continue funding its Everbridge critical communications system that provides residents with a range of essential information by telephone and had been funded by Stepan at a cost of $5,000 annually.

“It’s been very successful,” Clarke said, noting the township might try to determine if another business is interested in sponsoring the program or if council will shoulder the cost. “We’ll have to look at it in our next budget year.”

andrewphilips@live.ca 



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