Citizen sleuth prompts cleanup in canal that supplies N.L. town's water

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Dozens of aging metal barrels are being pulled out of a canal that supplies drinking water to a Newfoundland town thanks to the efforts of a concerned citizen who first brought the issue to light.

Deer Lake resident Richard Dewey used a GoPro camera in late 2016 to record video footage of the sunken waste, including GPS data showing the exact location where he shot it.

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His efforts spurred the cleanup after years of speculation about debris at the bottom of the Humber Canal and possible related health risks.

This week, about 55 barrels are being pulled from a 30-metre stretch of the canal in a cleanup effort by Kruger Inc., which owns nearby Corner Brook Pulp and Paper and Deer Lake Power.

"It was rumoured that there was a lot of junk put in the canal, but it was just rumours," Dewey said of his decision to film the barrels after he felt the province's Environment Department was not moving swiftly enough.

"It went back and forth for a bit, until of course you get frustrated and you say ... 'I'll post a video on YouTube of the contamination,' " he recalled. "That sort of got their attention."

Dewey said once he started posting the videos, other residents reached out to him with suspected locations of other debris.

After the images became public, Kruger contacted Stantec, which specializes in contaminated site cleanups, to assess the area and test the sediment around the barrels for any immediate risks to the water supply.

General manager Darren Pelley said Stantec's team was expected to remove the last barrel on Friday.

"Water supply safety is paramount for us, for our employees and their families, and residents of Deer Lake," Pelley said by phone. "It's the right thing to do. We're cleaning the area up."

Pelley said it's believed the heavily deteriorated barrels are from the 1950s, based on historical activity in the area, but he said it's unknown exactly how long the barrels have been in the canal and what their contents were.

Many of the barrels have broken down and they appear to be empty, but Pelley said a scientific analysis of their contents will be conducted and made public.

Dewey said Thursday he isn't satisfied with the scope of the cleanup and the security clampdown while the operation has been underway. The public have been kept out of the area, and Dewey was arrested on a trespassing complaint while the operation was being prepared.

Dewey said he hopes the rest of the junk he worked hard to document comes out of the canal.

"A lot of people feel it's been hidden away," he said. "I think they should do the right thing, own it and take it all out. Let's get this cleaned up once and for all. Let's get some answers for the residents here."

Pelley said two sunken barges known to be at the bottom of the canal are staying put because tests suggested removing them would lift sediment and pose a greater risk to the water supply.

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