The Town of Iroquois Falls has publicly released the purchase agreement they signed along with Resolute Forest Products and Riverside Developments to redevelop the former mill site into a multi-use industrial facility. But interested or concerned residents won’t be learning much more about the deal they didn’t already know because the vast majority of the document is redacted.
The document, which is available for viewing on the town’s website (as well on www.TimminsPress.com) contains the resolution approved by the town council accepting the agreement, the list of definitions, the signatures of Mayor Michael Shea, Riverside Developments CEO Justus Veldman, and Resolute senior vice-president Jacques Vachon.
Almost every other page is redacted to some degree, with page after page containing only blacked out boxes where entire articles of the contract should be.
In an emailed response to The Daily Press, Shea argued that the agreement is fundamentally a contract between two independent companies, and only the sections that pertain directly to the municipality are being made available.
Regardless of how much of the document is blacked out, Shea said the town has nothing to hide.
“The Asset Purchase Agreement was a business-to-business transaction,” reads Shea’s email. “The town’s involvement in this agreement was limited to the sections made available publicly … There is nothing hidden with regards to this transaction and any information you may have received to that effect is unfounded.”
The former mayor of Iroquois Falls Jim Brown has been dogging municipal council for more information about the deal, and a copy of the purchase agreement in particular ever since the Abitibi Banks development was announced in January.
Brown said appears the town decided to release the least amount of information they could get away with after he forced their hand by filing a request under a Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“The mayor has said that they are being as forthcoming as possible and that they have nothing to hide, and then you see this,” said Brown.
One of the questions Brown says he wanted to get an answer to from the agreement is who is responsible for paying for the environmental clean up of the mill site. After more than a century of operation, the mill is almost certainly going to require some environmental remediation, said Brown.
“That’s one of my biggest concerns because the cleanup costs could be astronomical,” he said.
An entire section of the purchase agreement is dedicated to the subject of remediation work, but the first subsection has been redacted. The remaining subsections deal with the municipality’s and Riverside Development’s obligation to do all the work required in the Environmental Protection if they decide to change the use of the property.
But Shea says that the town has not taken on any environmental liability for the mill because of the purchase.
“Please note that there is no environmental liability incurred by the Town with respect to the former mill site property,” reads the mayor’s email.
The mayor also pointed out that during a presentation to the town council, Brown acknowledged that the purchase was fundamentally a business-to-business transaction.
Contractual agreements between private companies are usual not release publicly, and even when they involve governments, the agreements are often kept secret as to keep business-sensitive information from getting out.
When asked about this point, Brown responded that the residents of Iroquois Falls deserve more information, especially considering the agreement was negotiated behind closed doors by the town.
“The town council owes us some answers; owes the community some answers,” he said. “Why don’t they answer any questions? They were entrusted by the public to handle our affairs, and they’re not doing that in an open and transparent way. The onus is on them to come out and explain what is going on.”
Brown says he is now pushing for a town hall meeting so the situation can be discussed. He also wants answers on why the town’s 2016 draft budget has $0 in tax revenue this year coming from commercial and industrial income taxes when they collected $3.08 million in 2015. At the same time, revenues from residential taxes will be increased by $2.6 million (or an increase of 65%.)
“Justus Veldman said he was going to pay taxes (on the mill site), is that not the case,” posed Brown.