Rumours confirmed—GIGI is gone Pontiac Industrial Park sold – again!

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Added: Wed, 12/06/2017 - 11:34pm
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Allyson Beauregard

Due to space constraints the French version of this article will be published in the December 20th edition.

LITCHFIELD – What was to be the cutting edge of Pontiac’s industrial rebirth, the Pontiac Industrial Park, on the site of the Smurfit paper mill in Litchfield, is once again in the news. Another American company has purchased the property, according to a press release from the Municipality of Litchfield, December 1. The sale follows the closure of the Trebio pellet mill, the original owners’ default on municipal taxes (confirmed by the municipality) and the removal of “millions of dollars” of scrap metal and equipment from the former paper mill site.
In 2014, CBC questioned the practises of the original American company, GIGI (Green Investment Group Inc), which had purchased the Smurfit site, salvaged machinery and metals and was selling or leasing sections of the Park. The Trebio pellet mill closed after receiving $14 million from the Quebec and Federal governments, plus a loan from the Pontiac SADC. Two companies remain in the Park, both owning their own lots – UTEau, a septic and waste water processor, and the “Pontiac Sorting Centre”, which sorts and salvages construction waste.
The municipality, and GIGI's former Vice-President for Canadian Operations, Gerry Philippe, both confirmed the sale of the Industrial Park to Wakefield Properties, a Seattle based company that financed GIGI's original purchase of the Litchfield site. Philippe reports that GIGI no longer exists in Canada.
Remi Bertrand joins purchaser
The MRC Pontiac’s former Director General, Remi Bertrand, is now a “Management Consultant” for Wakefield Properties. This company finances residential and commercial developments.
Wakefield lists the Pontiac site as one of its current projects. It says it is reclaiming the 1,800 acre property “in cooperation with the City of Ottawa”. Wakefield’s website reports, “The development can be rezoned for commercial, industrial, and residential use,” and claims the waterfront property has “abundant natural resources”, with an opportunity to create “a mixed-use development near Ottawa and Montreal”.
Apart from this sale, which indicates the extent to which the Industrial Park is now out of the MRC Pontiac’s control, the Pontiac Sorting Center is generating new questions, with many residents worrying it has become less a recycling centre and more like a massive landfill site.
These questions resurfaced in early November 2017, when Warden Jane Toller
posted photos of waste stockpiled at the site.
Unconfirmed rumours are that asbestos insulation from the Parliament Building renovations have been shipped here and not stored properly. 
The Sorting Center was hit with an injunction order by Quebec’s Ministry of the Environment in December, 2015. Details of the injunction remain obscure, but according to the Ministry, it involved “the deposit of residual materials
in an unauthorized place.” Destined for court in the fall of 2016, the injunction
hearing was postponed.
According to other media reports, the injunction concerned the storing of asbestos. Although asbestos exposure is known to be correlated with cancer, it is
not legally classified as a hazardous material in Quebec. 
Gerry Philippe, now the Sorting Center's head office contact, and former adjoint to MP Lawrence Cannon, during whose term most of these arrangements were launched, said the injunction was resolved, but refused to disclose any details. He stressed that no hazardous materials are accepted at the Center
and all waste comes from the Pontiac and surrounding areas, but not Ontario. The Ministry confirmed the injunction was withdrawn after determining residual materials were disposed of in an “authorized place”. 
However, following a Ministry investigation, additional reports of violations were served on July 4, 2017. The Ministry would not comment any further. 
Litchfield’s mayor, Colleen Larivière, said it has been “very difficult” to get information about current or former violations or the operation of the site, given that it is a private enterprise. She said she was recently told by a Ministry representative that the current matter will be in court for at least another year.
  Lack of jurisdiction
Larivière emphasized that although the municipality is working hard to get information and following the file closely, a lack of jurisdiction prevents local action. “We have nothing to do with what's going on at the Industrial Park, other than zoning and issuing building permits. The Ministry is the main player.” The municipal inspector conducts monthly visits and has noted an improvement in the condition of the Sorting Center site, the mayor said.
The MRC Pontiac also faces a lack of jurisdiction. Kari Richardson, the MRC’s Environmental Coordinator, said they too have no control over individual projects within the Park. “Promoters of industrial projects have to obtain the certificates from the Ministry of Environment, which have guidelines and regulations
for operation. (But) any infractions committed are managed by the Ministry,” she said.
Asbestos in the Park?
Toller told the Journal she wants to work with the Sorting Centre owner, Gauvreau Roma, to “assist him in doing the best job possible so [the site] becomes a temporary resting place before things move on”.  She is most concerned with storing asbestos waste on the Park’s riverside site. She added that not much has changed in pictures taken from the summer and those taken recently in terms of the waste stored on site. “Where do you draw the line with contamination? The river is close by,” she stressed.
Philippe told the Journal the Center is licensed to accept and store asbestos, which, he claims, is later sent for disposal in Lachute, a massive landfill. Toller said she has heard of plans to bury the material on-site. Philippe said the company is exploring “other methods” of disposal, but refused to specify what they are, and did not exclude burying as an option.
“They bury it in Lachute. Asbestos comes from the ground, so that's where it is returned,” Philippe said, noting asbestos is no longer harmful once buried. 
Toller disagrees. “I'm certainly not in favour of burying asbestos. I'm not an expert and don't know if burying it in the ground all of a sudden means it's safe, but I would hope there is a better solution,” she said, noting she sees garbage as a resource. “We need to recycle more things and send them to markets where there is a profit to be made,” she added.
One of Toller's own mandates is to ensure the Pontiac does not become a dumping ground - and is not left with a mess. “We want to do our best to keep the Pontiac clean and set a good example for solid waste management ... the warden can set the tone,” she concluded, promising this will continue as one of her priorities.
A matter of volume
When opened in January 2011, Roma said the Centre would significantly reduce the amount of construction and other dry materials sent to landfills. He claimed there would be a 92% recovery rate in the first years of operation. Philippe could not confirm that this rate has been achieved.
Philippe also said that shipping waste out is dependent on volume and price. For example, scrap metal is shipped out when the price is higher so the business can benefit from better profits. Other products can only be shipped once a certain volume has been collected.
The Sorting Center is also looking to participate in CREDDO's circular economy project, which makes connections between businesses so the waste of some becomes the raw materials of others. This project is currently in the works.
What's that smell?
Neighbours have complained of a foul odour from the Park. According to Larivière, the Ministry claims the smell comes from manholes used by the former mill during heavy rains.
 GIGI gone 
SSPM Pontiac, L.P., an affiliate of GIGI, purchased the 2,200 acre former Smurfit-Stone mill in January 2010; they purchase and redevelop abandoned or under-utilized industrial or commercial sites. This was the company’s second Smurfit-Stone mill purchased in Canada. Beside the Pontiac site, the company also had similar locations elsewhere in Quebec, in New Brunswick and in the US.
In November 2014, CBC reported on investigations which included the Litchfield site, and raised multiple questions about the financial status of GIGI. CBC claimed the company had stripped some of its sites of all saleable metal and other items, sold them, but then did not fulfill its promises of job creation and business investment. According to unconfirmed reports, millions of dollars of scrap metal was stripped and sold from the Litchfield site.
At that time, Philippe, denied to the Journal that the company was in financial
difficulty: “When we dismantle a site, that’s the easy part, but it's slow finding other companies to invest ... The Pontiac is far away, and now lacks a rail connection.”
What is the future for the Pontiac Industrial site?  Will the Pontiac benefit or will it just become another in a long list of big promises with few results? Watch the next issue of the Journal for more on this on-going story.