When a city is tarnished by a national news story, the best way to fight back is with facts.
“This is a real wake up call, again, despite all the work that is being done and all the good things that are happening in the community,” says Trail Mayor Mike Martin. “Yet we still remain vulnerable to having a smelter in our back yard.
“But there’s another side to this and this is where we are going to need Teck’s help to see if we can overcome this negative image.”
Martin was referring to provincial court proceedings in Rossland this week, that has Teck facing more than a dozen charges of spilling chemicals into the Columbia River on two separate occasions.
“This just reinforces for me, the need to have Teck come to the table and see what we can jointly do, to overcome the negative image and negative view of what we see as a beautiful city,” he added. “And one we take great pride in.”
The news about Teck heading to court was thrust into the national spotlight by the Globe and Mail on Friday, in a story that painted a polluted portrait of the Trail environment.
“I shared the article with council that morning,” said Martin. “I was extremely disappointed with how Trail was portrayed,” he shared. “It was dealing with negative facts, some historical, and didn’t balance that with all the good work that has been done in the community.
“There really is no recognition of that – and this really creates both an economic and social issue for us.”
The story generates strain on the already soft Trail real estate market.
Martin pointed to the $10,000 drop in property value on the average Trail home, according to 2016 BC Assessment roll. “Trail was one of the few communities that actually saw a decline in overall assessment, primarily driven by market real estate sales,” he said. ”Compare ourselves to other communities in the Kootenays and you can quickly come to the conclusion that Trail is not seen as attractive as other cities might be.”
So, how does Martin and his council tackle another black mark against Trail?
“I really see this as a catalyst for improved communication between Teck and the city,” he said. “They are a great corporate citizen and have shown great respect for their social licence to be operating in this community.
“And I am not taking away from the good that has happened, because a lot of good has happened,” he emphasized. “But the bar is forever rising on us as a society and somehow we need Teck to come to the table to help us, and help this community.”
As chair of the Trail Health and Environment Committee (THEC), Martin emphasizes the group’s community-led passion and success in promoting healthy living and a clean environment in the Trail area.
“The way you respond to it, is with facts,” says Martin, referring to the way Trail is often portrayed in media.
Sampling tests are black and white, not left open to conjecture.
“There’s been a 95 per cent decrease in emissions from the smelter over the last 20 years, that’s air and effluent, demonstrated through all the sampling that’s been done,” said Martin. “The one that really stands out for me, is lead emissions from the stacks have decreased by 99.5 per cent.”
Teck listens to the community through THEC, maintains Martin, mentioning ongoing concern about emissions leaving the Trail site through fugitive dust.
“That is why they are putting in a $40 million smelter recycling building,” he continued. “ To manage those emissions, and the anticipated reduction is a further 25 per cent.”
Another factual improvement is the ever declining serum lead level in children.
“That is a key indicator for us,” said Martin. “We’ve seen continuous improvement over the last 20 years, a big step being when the KIVCET furnace came on line. And the next big step, we (THEC) believe, is going to be the management of fugitive emissions.”
He also refutes an undated reference from the article that states, “tests downstream found water is highly toxic.”
“A study was completed in 2013 and 2014, specifically looking at the health of the Columbia River downstream of the operations,” explained Martin. “That study concluded the river is healthy, the fish are safe to eat, and there is no impact of smelter effluents on the river.”
Finally, Martin mentioned another matter, the contaminated aquifer under Trail operations.
“Teck is putting in another $40 million plant to deal with that,” said Martin, noting the groundwater treatment plant currently under construction.
Drinking water does not come from that source, however in light of the water contamination probe in Flint, Michigan (heavily contaminated with lead), Martin thought it prudent to follow up with a test of Trail’s water supply.
“I wanted to get confirmation on the quality of water in the City of Trail and the level of lead,” he added.
“I just received the test results and the level of lead is below what is detectable in a laboratory.”
Not shying from Teck’s current court proceedings, the mayor acknowledged the serious environmental infractions.
“I just really want to emphasize that at this point, for me, it’s really unfortunate what’s happened with these two incidents and the resulting court case,” he told the Trail Times. “And I do want to say something about that.
“If there are fines levied, it would be great if those fines could be directed towards improvements in the immediate area of Trail,” he added. “This has happened in the past and would hope the court see it that way and not have those funds directed into some federal funding source.”
Teck did give the city the heads up in advance of the court cases, but Martin is waiting for the process to conclude before sitting down with company leaders.
“The city and residents are doing their part to help with revitalizing, looking at the pipe/pedestrian bridge and library museum. These are all things we can tangibly work on.”