Worried north-end residents were standing in their backyards late Thursday morning watching pungent brown water creep towards their houses while a fleet of contractors, Public Works staff, and Abitibi-Consolidated employees rushed to block the flow from two broken effluent pipes running in and out of the mill.
The water was quickly getting deeper behind homes between Walker and Lillie Avenues just south of Eighth Street despite efforts to build dams and pump it out.
“The effluent line from the Fort Frances paper mill complex to the secondary treatment system [lagoon] was damaged by excavation equipment around 9 a.m. [Thursday] morning,” said Bill Osterman, Abitibi-Consolidated’s pulp and utilities manager.
“This resulted in an emergency shutdown of the entire paper mill complex,” he added.
Over the next few hours, the line was to be isolated, drained, and made ready for repairs according to the mill. But as of press time, the untreated, hot water carrying residue from the pulping process was still pouring into neighbourhood backyards.
“I had one nice tomato not quite red and I never picked it,” said Harold Peterson, a resident at 1041 Walker Ave. as he stood with several other neighbours surveying their backyards.
“I’m not very happy,” said another resident at 1061 Walker Ave., where the water was seeping under her home.
“They’re starting to try and pump it and they shut down the mill,” she added. “I guess my garden won’t be edible and it’s going all the way into the house.”
The mill will remain closed for an undetermined amount of time and the effluent will be diverted into the Rainy River below the dam.
“Once the mill complex is entirely shut down, residual effluent will have to be directed to Rainy River,” said Osterman.
The cost of damage to properties, pipe repairs, and lost revenue because of the mill shutdown is expected to be very high.
One resident reported feeling ill as the fumes from the leak wafted throughout the area.