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Quebec commits to fuel cleanup 

A section of the Suzanne River dammed with sandbags. Courtesy Kahnawake Marina

The premier of Quebec said the province will provide all the financial resources Kahnawake needs in the ongoing cleanup of diesel fuel in community. The commitment was made last week following a meeting between Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer and François Legault.  

“I want to ensure the work that needs to be done happens to make sure that there is no impact on any humans or animals. With Benoit Charette, minister of the environment, I will make sure we do all the work necessary,” Legault said at a press conference at the Chateauguay library following the meeting on Friday, March 1.  

“I will first ensure that we investigate the situation, and also that we help finance the interventions that need to be made,” the premier said. 

Ian Lafrenière, Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister, and Marie-Belle Gendron, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) member of national assembly for the riding, also attended the meeting with the premier. 

Legault also met that day with the mayor of Chateauguay to discuss the spill that happened at an industrial site in the city on February 1. As it stands, the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) theorizes the spill is the source of the diesel fuel found in Kahnawake since February 9. 

“This fuel spill, it’s obviously a priority, we’ve got to get this resolved,” Sky-Deer said. “The 30 minutes passed very quickly as the fuel spill dominated the majority of the discussion.” 

The grand chief said the MCK hasn’t decided yet how much it will request from the province, but said it will be decided following a Council meeting on Monday. There, public safety commissioner Lloyd Phillips is expected to present a budget submission for the costs needed for the cleanup.  

Last week, MCK chief Cody Diabo told The Eastern Door that well over $100,000 has already been spent. 

“KEPO has depleted its reserves, and I think Public Safety did too,” Sky-Deer said, saying both pulled from funds they had set aside for responding to emergencies. 

While she’s relieved Legault has committed to “deploying whatever resource” necessary to respond to the spill, the grand chief said she wants to see more open communication between Kahnawake, the province, and the city of Chateauguay.  

“I definitely think there’s more work to be done; I think there has to be better communication. I reached out to the mayor this week, and we agreed that there needs to be more collaboration,” Sky-Deer said. 

KEPO is still busy with the cleanup, which began after fuel was found in a ditch near a home close to a creek in the Zachary Road area. The costs expended thus far have included the hiring of outside professionals to vacuum fuel from the creek and the Suzanne River, the construction of dams throughout the community to halt the spread of the diesel fuel, which is still ongoing, as well as the hiring of environmental consultants.  

Two new dams were also added to sections of the river this week, said Phillips. The commissioner of public safety has been appointed by the MCK to spearhead the new crisis response team that will be responsible for overseeing all work being done by KEPO and Kahnawà:ke Shakotiia’takéhnhas Community Services (KSCS) in response to the spill moving forward. 

“It ensures that everybody knows what each other is doing and that we’re coordinating and that we’re being strategic together,” Phillips said. 

Air quality and drinking water testing, and an analysis of various hydrocarbons in different bodies of water in Kahnawake, is also still ongoing. Sampling to date has shown that the containment dams installed have blocked diesel from reaching bodies of water downstream from Zachary Road, the public safety commissioner said.  

“They have proven to be very effective, because there has been little to no detection of fuel downstream past the dams. They are holding and they’re doing what they are designed to do,” Phillips said. Roughly 2,500 litres of diesel fuel has been vacuumed from the river area thus far, he added. 

A new website has also since been created allowing community members to follow updates about the situation at KahnawakeResponse.com. Updates are also now routinely expected through the Kahnawake 911 Facebook page. 

miriam@easterndoor.com 

This article was originally published in print on March 8 in issue 33.10 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.