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10 years after expropriation, Abitibi waste still in the ground

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A decade after the provincial government became the owner of a shuttered mill, whatever toxic mess lies beneath has yet to be cleaned up.

In 2008, when Abitibi Consolidated announced it was closing its Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill, the Danny Williams government reacted by expropriating the company’s assets.

Among them, the provincial government would later learn, was the mill building and its polluted grounds. Now, a decade on, the building is gone, but whatever is buried on the site — accidentally appropriated by the province — remains. 

Junior Downey worked there for 36 years.

“You gotta know what’s under there,” he said. “Over the years, the company has buried everything that we know of. When they wanted to bury something years ago, it was just go dig a hole and put it down in it.”

Junior Downey worked at the Abitibi mill for 36 years. (Leigh Anne Power)

He said he knows about containers of PCBs, waste oil from machinery and other contaminants buried on the site.

Mayor Barry Manuel says he’s heard about similar things.

There was all kinds of different operations that would have led to different kinds of contamination.– Barry Manuel

“I know that there were some test pits on site down there, I’m told,” he said.  “And they were checked periodically to see what the condition was. And there was different degrees of contamination depending on what site you were looking at and depending on the nature of what the site was used for.

“In the past, in the mill operation, there were garages, trains pulling up, there was a fitting room. There was all kinds of different operations that would have led to different kinds of contamination.”

In 2009, some months after the expropriation of its assets, Abitibi filed for bankruptcy protection.

Abitibi Consolidated’s mill in Grand Falls-Windsor was torn down in June 2016. (CBC)

The province had been intending to issue cleanup orders under the Environmental Protection Act, but didn’t get it done before the company went under.

In 2012, the government asked the Supreme Court of Canada to be considered a primary creditor so it could claim cleanup fees from the company’s assets. The court refused, leaving the cleanup in the hands of the province.

Back then, the province estimated a full cleanup to cost about $100 million. But in the six years since the court ruling, nowhere near that amount has gone into remediation of the site.

Nalcor still owns the power generating plant on the old Abitibi mill site. (Leigh Anne Power)

The Department of Environment says tearing down the building cost about $250,000. A further $100,000 is going into treating three ammonia tanks.

Lawyer Will Amos, who intervened in the 2012 court case on behalf of environmental organization Friends of the Earth, says he thinks the province hasn’t cleaned up the site because it can’t afford to.

“There is legislation that provides for cleaning up, which isn’t necessarily mandatory,” explained Amos, now a Liberal member of Parliament for the Quebec riding of Pontiac. “And so you’ll have situations where there are legacy contaminated sites and there’s no allocated funding to ensure it gets done.”

Aside from the risk of old containers leaking their toxic contents into the soil, and then leaching into the Exploits River, the presence of underground pollutants limits what the land can be used for.

Al Hawkins is the former mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor and the MHA for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans MHA Al Hawkins, the former mayor of Grand Falls-Windsor and the former minister of Transportation and Works, which is responsible for the mill site, says there’s one piece of work left to do.

“I think the lagoon system has to be removed,” he said. “Once that’s done, unless there’s construction in the area, if it continues to be a brown-filled area, it could be a park with trees or benches. It could be a grassy area. Then remediation wouldn’t have to occur.

“The only time remediation would have to happen would be if there’s going to be new construction there and you’re disturbing the soil.”

Over the years, there have been proposals to build a hotel or condos on the land along the riverfront, but those options won’t be possible without a thorough cleanup.

Despite the contamination, the town still wants the land for some kind of development, but council has to make sure it doesn’t end up on the hook for any environmental liability.

Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Barry Manuel says the town has sent multiple requests to the province for access to the old mill site. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

“We need to know what the parameters are so we can plan appropriately,” said Manuel. “Is it going to be a grassy field? A brown field? Is there a significant cleanup required? If so, to what degree? Can you put buildings down there? What kind of infrastructure? Park benches?

“So right now, we’re kind of waiting for a transfer to be done [and] talking to government about their plans to do some testing to see what the condition is. And hopefully, with that information, we can proceed with some planning that would improve the town.”

Some plans already in place

As part of the land transfer negotiations, the town has agreed to trade five acres of land it owns adjacent to the mill site to the province. That will become the site of the new long-term care home to be built there soon.

The town would also acquire several buildings, including the historic Grand Falls House, and the training centre building, which they hope will be the new home for the town’s historical society. In the case of Grand Falls House, though, the town needs the province to commit to helping pay for its upkeep.

As Hawkins indicated, at this point it’s unlikely there will be a complete cleanup of the mill site unless there’s new construction or some kind of leak or spill.

Nobody knows for sure how much pollution lies beneath the ground at the Abitibi mill site in Grand Falls-Windsor. (Leigh Anne Power)

Junior Downey says a cleanup operation could even be risky in itself.

“I don’t think anybody is going to dig under the ground because God knows if you strikes one or two PCB containers down there, then everything shuts down and you see this place cordoned off and people coming in with haz-mat suits and everything on. So, I don’t know what you can do with the ground,” he said.

He and Manuel says they just want the matter settled. They both believe the riverfront land is important for the town’s future, even if it just becomes a park, and 10 years is way too long to wait for the transfer to happen.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks

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Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says

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If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank

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Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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