Hawke's Bay mayor says town wasn't told its landfill would be getting contaminated waste

Lussier and Parks Canada staff supervise the remediation of an old landfill in Gros Morne National Park.
Parks Canada staff supervise the remediation of an old landfill in Gros Morne National Park earlier this week. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Gros Morne's trash is becoming the town of Hawke's Bay's trouble — and the mayor, Lloyd Bennett, feels blindsided.

This week, truckloads of waste began leaving a 1970s landfill site at Martin's Point in Gros Morne National Park, destined to be dumped at the landfill in Hawke's Bay. But Bennett says the town wasn't told it was going to happen.

"Nobody knew anything about this. This was like a clandestine type operation," Bennett said.

Bennett said Parks Canada, which operates Gros Morne park, and NorPen Regional Waste Management, which is carrying out the job, told the town nothing.

A statement from the Nor Pen Regional Service Board says the job was approved by Service N.L. According to Digital Government and Service N.L. spokesperson Gina MacArthur, the provincial department issued a permit for the transfer of the waste when it was contacted by an environmental consulting firm hired by Parks Canada.

50-year-old dump

The Gros Morne site at Martin's Point was an easily accessible spot for residents in neighbouring communities in the 1970s to dump garbage. Removing the former dump is part of a federal project to clean up contaminated sites at risk to human health or the environment.

Work at Martin's Point has been ongoing for around five years. It was unclear initially where the landfill was located — until debris started falling into the nearby ocean.

Early testing discovered lead and other metals contaminating the soil, and erosion allowed these materials to leach into the beach and ocean.

Hawke's Bay closest site that can take contaminated waste

Climate change poses further risks as rising sea levels and storm surges could force more waste into the water.

Hawke's Bay is the closest landfill that can take contaminated waste, to mitigate environmental risks.

But Bennett said his town is not the answer.

"Parks Canada is kicking the can down the road. So long as they don't have to deal with it anymore, they don't really care where it goes," he said.

"They're putting it in a landfill site that is not suited for this type of waste."

Concerned about consequences for health, salmon

Hawke's Bay neighbours the Big East River, a salmon river found off the Viking Trail.

Bennett is worried the waste will contaminate the river.

"It's going to sit there and the rainwater is going to get into it, and it's going to leach, and it's going to get down into the fractured rock, and it's going to run downhill," Bennett said.

"Just downhill from the waste site is one of the most pristine salmon rivers on the west coast, known as Big East River, and that's where this material, the waste and the contaminants are going to end up."

He wants to know what other contaminants the waste contains — and the potential health impact on the town's residents.

"I bet you NorPen doesn't know and Parks Canada probably knows but won't share that information with you — what other contaminants are in this waste that's coming out of Martin's Point? What other things are coming there?" Bennett said.

"In 10 or 20 years from now, when people start to have health issues in this region or that beautiful salmon river is destroyed, it would be too late because nobody will know what actually destroyed it, what contaminants were in that soil."

Mayor wants waste disposed in central Newfoundland

MacArthur told CBC News that testing determined the site's contents pose "no unacceptable risk" to human or ecological health.

Bennett's not satisfied.

"The bottom line here is that the municipal government in Hawke's Bay did not agree to have this come into their boundaries," Bennett said.

"We want this product removed, taken away from our boundaries and taken to a proper landfill site in central Newfoundland where it can be disposed of safely."

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