Friday, November 27, 2009
A three-month effort to remove hazardous waste and remnants of an old military communications site in Black River-Matheson were completed this week.
"Kempis Mountain, also known as Mid-Canada Line site 070, was ... the last link of a chain of Mid-Canada Line communications sites that stretched north to Hudson Bay," about two kilo-metres from Butler Lake, just south of Matheson, said township mayor Mike Milinkovich.
"Up to now, it was totally fenced in. There were no signs of buildings. All that was left were slabs of concrete where the powerhouse was" and other remnants.
The project was part of a larger effort announced earlier this year by the federal and provincial governments to clean up 16 abandoned Cold War radar sites throughout Northern Ontario.
Kempis Mountain was not a radar facility but a communications site linked to similar sites located north of Cochrane, in Fort Albany and at Cape Henrietta Maria on James Bay.
These were part of a series of early warning detection systems that were developed when there were tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union and fears of Moscow launching missiles across the Arctic.
Back around 1957, when the Kempis Mountain site was established, Milinkovich worked as an engineering technologist and helped install and maintain this Matheson-area facility.
This week, he was invited as a township representative to take part in a formal ceremony marking the final stage of its dismantling and removal.
"Unfortunately one of the dangerous legacies left behind at all the sites across Canada including site 070 is an organic chemical compound called polychlorinated biphenyl or as commonly known, PCBs," Milinkovich explained. "This chemical was commonly used for many years in various types of electrical power equipment installed at all the sites.
"PCBs are classified as persistent organic pollutants meaning PCBs never degrade or disappear but persist in the environment and accumulate in human and animal tissue. The only way to get rid of it from the environment is to remove it and destroy it by various methods at specially-designed facilities. PCBs can cause serious health problems in humans and other mammals such as lowering of the immune system, birth defects, health problems such as cancer and diabetes or a failure by males to reproduce."
The onsite cleanup operation began Aug. 26.
By the end of the project, a team had removed more than 17,000 tonnes of material from Kempis Mountain.
"This material was trucked to sites in Quebec and other locations in Ontario for proper disposal," Milinkovich explained. "In total 2,342 samples of soil, leachate, hydrocarbons, concrete, bedrock, PCB wipe tests for nonporous materials and water were tested for contaminates."
Milinkovich recalled the role site 070 played during the height of the Cold War era.
"Data that was collected by the Mid-Canada Line Doppler Detection Sites (radar sites) was transmitted south from site 070 by land line to the 'hole' in North Bay. The 'hole,' as it was called, was the colocated headquarters for the northern region of NORAD. The other NORAD headquarters site was located in the Cheyenne Mountains in Colorado. Together, these two sites controlled North American defences against potential threats from the air by analyzing data and information from the northern radar lines to determine if jets had to be scrambled to meet potential threats from attacking forces."
He said the site provided ample employment for people in the surrounding area.
"During the construction of site 070 and during the years it was manned, people from the Township of Black River-Matheson played a big part.
"The road up Kempis Mountain and the levelling of the site for construction was done primarily by the late Vic Hembruff's company now called R. J. Lougheed Trucking Ltd. and currently owned by Bob Lindsay. Much of the concrete work and construction was completed by a company called H&D Construction and owned at the time by the late Ernie Dambrowitz and Floyd Hembruff. Sadly this company no longer exists. Many people from the towns of Holtyre, Matheson, Ramore, Shillington and Val Gagne also worked for years at various occupations at the site."
Having worked on the installation and maintenance of the facility as a young man, Milinkovich said he felt privileged to be formally involved in its final stage.
"I was honoured to be asked to participate in the closing ceremonies to represent the Township of Black River-Matheson and also from a personal perspective as one of the survivors whose site 070 story began 52 years ago. From 1956 to 1961 it was my privilege to have worked on all three radar lines" the U. S.- built Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, the Canadianbuilt and manned Mid- Canada Line (MCL), and the jointly erected Pinetree Line.
"I worked in every province in Canada from the tip of Vancouver Island at Holdberg to Newfoundland and north of the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island. This experience profoundly cemented my deep love and appreciation of this wonderful country of ours at an early age."