Catalyst mill site development ‘frozen’

The Elk Falls Mill has been identified as a contaminated site by the ministry of environment

Development of the abandoned Catalyst pulp mill property is “frozen” and the city will not have the ability to issue re-development permits any time soon, an Environment Ministry official has told the Mirror.

Senior contaminated sites officer Vincent Hanemayer says two parallel review processes are underway and until the City of Campbell River receives the appropriate sign-off from the environment ministry, the municipality’s ability to “issue demolition, subdivision rezoning, soil removal, development or development variance permits is still frozen.”

“We are nowhere near that,” Hanemayer said Thursday when asked how soon the city may be able to turn on the re-development green light.

Earlier this month Catalyst Paper said it had received partial pre-payment of the $8.6 million purchase price for the Elk Falls site from Alberta-based Pacifica Deep Sea Terminals developer Harold Jahn. It also said the deadline to finalize the sale had been extended indefinitely. It was the third extension of the sale completion.

Simultaneously, Jahn declared the Pacifica Industrial Park “open for business” and said he was “accepting business and lease proposals for the use of the buildings, lands, and water lots” on the 400-acre site.

After the Catalyst property sale was announced in August Hanemayer said “the Elk Falls Mill has been identified as a contaminated site by the ministry and prior to redevelopment, contamination will have to be assessed and addressed.”

Not a lot has changed since then. Hanemayer says: “A site profile was submitted to the ministry last January in association with decommissioning of the Catalyst Elk Falls mill. (A ministry) site profile decision letter requires submission of a preliminary site investigation report and a site risk classification report within a year. At this time we have only received a Stage 1 preliminary site investigation report. The site profile decision letter also freezes issuance of local government permits.”

Hanemayer says the preliminary site investigation report from Catalyst does not detail specific contamination. Stage 2 of the investigation process involves “punching holes” on the site. If the site is deemed “high risk” as a result of the site risk classification report the ministry will “impose a requirement for a remediation strategy.”

The city’s hands are tied until it receives an approval in principle for a remediation plan, a certificate of compliance of remediation completion or a release from the ministry, Hanemayer says.

Jahn originally told the Mirror: “The current state of the site will be our liability. When we have gone through the sale closing process we will meet with the government’s environmental officials and with the (Catalyst’s) environmental consultant.”

He said the “rejuvenation” process at the mill site will include water and sewer technologies that should help reduce the operating costs on the property. Meanwhile, Rivercorp CEO Vic Goodman tells the Mirror he has e-mailed Jahn this week to try and find out what, if anything, is going on.

“We’re all anticipating more clarity on this issue,” Goodman says. “We don’t have any more details on the sale and I have emailed Mr. Jahn requesting a briefing.”

City Manager Andy Laidlaw says his staff “have had conversations with Jahn, but the city has not received any development applications.”