Who is responsible for cleaning up after NTCL?

The company has shipped and stored oil, fuel, uranium and other materials over its decades of operations, and today its properties remain full of scrap. What will become of its lands if the company no longer exists?

MLA R.J. Simpson says the federal government should take responsibility for the former Crown corp.

The so-called Radium Line barges were once used to transport uranium from Great Bear Lake; several were gutted recently due to lingering uranium in their decking. The rest remain on the shore of the Hay River. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

Pollution on NTCL properties is a growing concern as the company slips toward bankruptcy.

If the company goes under, someone will have to clean up its lands, many of which are replete with buildings and debris: rusting barges, heaps of scrap metal, and soil that has absorbed the products of years of heavy industrial activity.

Roy Fabian, chief of the Katlodeeche First Nation near Hay River, N.W.T., says he would like to buy some of the land as part of the First Nation's land selection process, but not in its current state.

"If it's in the present state that it's in with all those oil-contaminated land and chemical spills all over the place…I don't know if we want that kind of land," he said. 

"The Inuvialuit Development Corporation and the government of Canada need to do something to make sure the land is back to its original state and that it's good and clean, and maybe then I'll select it."

An archival photo from the Hay River Historical Society shows the Radium Line barges in action. (Hay River Historical Society)

Government bickering

It's becoming increasingly clear that the company itself is unlikely to have the resources to clean up its mess, though who will ultimately be responsible remains unclear.

"We all know that NTCL won't be cleaning up these properties, so it falls on this government to take the initiative and reclaim our landscape," Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said in the legislative assembly this week.

"Many people take for granted that the federal government will swoop in and clean up. I don't." 

Simpson said he is "positive" that the federal government holds the liability for the contamination, since NTCL was a former Crown corporation and its land leases come from those days.

"We need to ensure that we aggressively pursue federal support to not only accept this liability, but to remediate those sites as well," he told the assembly.

NTCL's yard in Hay River is shut down, with operations ceasing this week. (Jimmy Thomson/CBC)

No security deposits with GNWT

Hay River Mayor Brad Mapes told CBC earlier this month that he and the town council were being kept in the dark by the company, and that he expected the cost of an environmental assessment would be covered by an eventual buyer.

According to the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board as well as the territorial Lands department, NTCL has not been obligated to post any security against the cost of remediation — basically a deposit so the taxpayer isn't left holding the bag — because its leases are too old. 

"The GNWT has not collected securities on these leases because they predate the applicable legislation that requires security," a spokesperson for Lands wrote.

In that time, the company has shipped and stored fuel, oil, uranium and many other substances that could impact the land. Last week, a leaked internal communication from the company showed it trying to move barrels of hazardous substances from one place to another in order to help sell the shipyard.

NTCL has declined to comment on remediation concerns, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has not yet issued its full response, saying only, "NTCL ceased to be a Crown corporation several decades ago and post devolution, responsibility for land and water management mostly lies with the GNWT."


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