Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

Shame on Shand…..
Most people in North Dakota aren’t even aware of a dangerous situation that was unfolding here for a number of years in the 1990s and into the early 2000s.
By Marvin Baker
Before Canada’s environmental laws were matched up to those in the United States, a coal-fired power plant just across the border southeast of Estevan, Saskatchewan, was spewing toxic pollution into North Dakota.
We all know that the prevailing wind in our state is from the northwest, so if you look at a North Dakota map and find Estevan, just north of Noonan, you’ll see the prevailing wind would take the Shand Power Plant exhaust right over the top of the communities of Columbus, Portal and Lignite and to a lesser degree, Bowbells.
This was the subject of fierce debate. The owner of Shand, Sask Power, denied that pollution was a problem locally, let alone across the boundary into North Dakota.
But if you ask people who lived in Columbus in the 1990s, you’ll get a much different story. Many became ill, their livestock developed sickness with respiratory problems and galvanized barbed wire fences began to rust. Clean air won’t cause that kind of damage, but Sask Power continued to state their environmental standards exceeded what was laid out in Canadian law.
Some of the media in northwest North Dakota weren’t satisfied so they put their resources together and hired an aircraft to fly over the Shand Power Plant area to see if anything unusual could be seen. The most obvious thing that turned up were PCB barrels.
About the same time, an environmental group called the Swift Current Project did some digging to determine exactly what kind of pollution was being released into rural Saskatchewan and northwestern North Dakota. According to the Swift Current Project, annual emissions from Shand included 86 tons of hydrochloric acid, 115 tons of sulphur and nitrogen oxides, 2,065 pounds of manganese, 2,006 pounds of chromium, 872 pounds of lead, 1,062 pounds of mercury, 851 pounds of arsenic and 35 pounds of cadmium. Elements hauled to the local landfill included 1.4 tons of cadmium, 16 tons of arsenic, 55 tons of lead, 195 tons of manganese, 129 tons of chromium, 22 tons of asbestos and about 500 pounds of mercury.
You don’t even need to look up some of these names such as lead, mercury and arsenic to know they are dangerous. So it’s no wonder people in Burke County, North Dakota, were complaining about the air quality.
In Shand’s defense, all of that has changed. Environmental laws became much tougher in 2007, and Shand was forced to clean up its act so to speak, but that took time to nullify the damage.
The Sask Power leadership did that and in just 11 short years, Shand has become a model for coal-fired power all across North America. As a matter of fact, it took a long time but Sask Power began to recognize that it wouldn’t be able to go on indefinitely burning coal so it became pro-active in its approach to electrical power. Some of the warm waste water is used to heat several greenhouses that are now supplying fresh produce and seedlings, even through the winter, to the residents of the Estevan and Weyburn areas. Solar panels have been installed that ultimately will expand and are expected to replace the coal burning generators in years to come.
Sask Power now showcases its Estevan power plant rather than trying to hide from the truth like it once did. It’s Canada’s perfect example of clean air and the prevention of climate change which is also helping the residents of Columbus, Portal and Lignite.
If you’re traveling on N.D. Highway 5, you’ll begin to see the gargantuan power plant just to the west of Lignite ,and when you get to Columbus as you’re going west, the plant is just seven miles away to the northwest. Further west is Noonan, which is in the clear if you consider the prevailing wind. Noonan is about 12 miles to the southwest of Shand, and Estevan is 17 miles straight north of Noonan.
At one time, when North Dakota residents were in danger, the state and federal governments were powerless to do anything about the pollution since the power plant was in another country. Today, it’s a different story. There is no longer caustic air rusting galvanized barb wire. The only pollution you’ll see are the lights blinking on the smoke stack.