Steel Plant

I’ve been thinking for a long time about how to write this piece. I’ve been thinking about expectations around journalism and objectivity. Expectations which I tend to think are a bit silly. There’s never one side to a story. There are never two sides, although we’re often led to believe that this is indeed the hallmark of value-free reporting. There are a hundred sides, a thousand sides. There is a side for each of us that witnesses or reflects on events and their impact on our diverse and unique lives.

This is my side.

I live on George Street. I love Cape Breton. I love the Northend.

I have two small and magical little ones with bright eyes and the most beautiful smiles. Their laughter makes my heart beat.

I have so much hope for this place. To stay here, rather than pack up for destinations with more delights for our eyes and minds, is to love this place for what it is and have hope for what you know it can become.

I have hope, for instance, that we have left behind the days of hulking foreign-owned manufacturing plants.

I have hope that after years (and years) of nurturing a more local, diverse, sustainable and innovative economy, we are not going to abandon this proven new course for sexy promises and quick fixes.

The recent press release issued by the provincial government told us a few things about the proposed International Iron Beneficiation Group (affiliate of OAO Severstal) plant development (http://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20130318004)

Explicitly, it told us that this plant, if realized, would provide “good jobs” and be a “game changer” (ahem, sexy promises).

Less explicitly it told us that the company would require a rate break from Nova Scotia Power.

It didn’t tell us at all about the “significant reduction in their annual tax burden” that CBRM Economic Development Officer John Whalley noted the company would expect (Chronicle Herald: http://thechronicleherald.ca/business/108841-iron-ore-pellet-plant-may-employ-700-in-sydney).

I’m skeptical of companies that can’t make a profit (or enough of a profit) without guarantees of power rate and tax deductions. Deductions or credits not open to all. Many businesses do fine (or must do fine) without them. I suppose this is all part of our twenty-first century global business environment: which jurisdiction is willing to give up the most and accept, in return, the very least.

Here are a few other things the release didn’t mention:

Cherepovets, an industrial center 300 kilometers northeast of Moscow, is home to the Severstal steel plant, one of Russia’s largest steel plants. According to a letter from the Mayor of Cherepovets (June 2004), in 1999 the plant was responsible for more than 95 percent of industrial emissions into the town’s air. According to the 1999 State Report on the Environment, the Severstal plant was the largest contributor to air pollution of all metallurgical plants in Russia

(http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/projects/display/153).

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Baltimore area residents and the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper recently filed a lawsuit against Severstal, owners of the Sparrows Point Steel Plant, and former plant owners, ArcelorMittal USA, for seepage of pollutants into Bear Creek and the Patapsco River. At one location beneath the plant site, benzene, a known human carcinogen, has been found in groundwater at levels 100,000 times the government’s maximum contaminant level concentrations. In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment, issued a consent decree that required a cleanup of pollution leaking from the 2,300 acre site. But 13 years later, the terms of the decree still had not been met. According to the Baltimore Sun, “State and federal officials have cited the steel mill owners 22 times since the court decree, and fined it nearly $700,000.”

(http://cbf.typepad.com/bay_daily/2010/07/an-underground-version-of-the-bp-oil-spill-has-been-spreading-toxic-chemicals-for-decades-into-chesapeake-bay-tributaries.html)

A class action lawsuit has been filed by Melvindale (Michigan) residents alleging that the Severstal’s plant emissions there are causing air pollution and dust discharge on their properties. The lawsuit was filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on behalf of Melvindale residents who live near the steel plant and who have been affected by SeverStal discharge.

(http://www.bigclassaction.com/lawsuit/severstal-pollution.php)

In an in-depth piece recently published on news site Cleveland.com, it was reported that while a steel worker in the US can expect to earn competitive wages with good workplace safety equipment and assurances, Severstal workers in Russia are paid what amounts to less than $300 a month. According to the reporter for the piece, “in Cherepovets, Severstal worker Nicolai Ryjov, with a cigarette between his lips, fishes scraps of slag from the flow of Severyanka, the largest steel-making furnace in the world, while protected by little more than a bell-shaped hard hat and a boiled-wool jacket.”

For Severstal workers in Cherepovets, a steel job earns a three-room walk-up in a concrete building coated with stained stucco. Home improvement is enclosing the balcony with two-by-fours. Wide streets are packed with weather-beaten sedans that smell of gasoline, sweat and antifreeze. If it’s payday, steel workers can afford beef chops and fresh-baked cookies. In between, its chicken cutlets or buckwheat kernels boiled with milk.

(http://www.cleveland.com/indepth/steel/index.ssf?/indepth/steel/more/100548330134351.html)

In the Chronicle Herald article cited above, Mr. Whalley also indicated that the proposed plant would be “back to the scale of the steel plant before its closure … back to having a steel operation and a very large import of coal on the former Sydney Steel property after a $400 million remediation.” He goes on to note that in many ways it “would be like having a coal-fired power plant right in the middle of your urban community.” Good-bye tourism. Good-bye cruise ship industry. Hello jokes about us dropping a giant steel fabrication plant on the site we fought to have remediated (from steel making) for more than twenty-five years.

This is my side. I’m sure Severstal has a side too. Something delivered by someone paid to make their industry and its by-products sound benign. Maybe they’re dedicated supporters of the World Wild Life Fund. Maybe much of their profits go to saving baby otters with lymphoma. Probably not.

All of this, if only still just a possibility, makes me angry. It makes me so angry that we think this is the best we can do. We can do so much better.

It makes me sad. It makes me sad for the many residents of the Northend, and those on Intercolonial Street, in particular, who have worked so hard, alongside the remediation to turn their neighbourhood and landscapes around; to make this a healthy, green, welcoming, and safe place to live and visit.

It makes me sad most of all for the little ones who, when looking out their bedroom windows for years to come would be greeted by a jungle of chugging smoke stacks – a very grey backdrop to the boardwalks and green space whose blue prints have hardly had time to dry. We owe them more than this. Our need for jobs is urgent, yes, but this – smoke stacks, iron ore manufacturing, and such incredible risks to the air they breathe and the water they drink – cannot be our legacy to them. No matter how badly we need jobs, we owe them more.

Erika Shea

George Street

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