Members of Nova Scotia's forestry industry say hundreds of jobs outside the Northern Pulp mill could be at stake if the mill is forced to shut down because of complaints about emissions.
Jeff Bishop, the executive director of the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia, is worried about what may happen if the provincial government orders Northern Pulp to close before it has a chance to resolve its emissions issues.
He said the mill will take with it hundreds of jobs for people who cut and haul wood.
"I'm guessing that's somewhere in the 400 to 500 job range. Those are small, independent contractors. Sawmills, probably somewhere in the area of a dozen of those," Bishop said Wednesday.
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Bishop said there are about 5,200 direct employees in the forest industry in Nova Scotia.
"I would have to think if there was a closure at Northern Pulp, that a significant portion of them would be directly affected," he said.
The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point processes tonnes of wood chips as a result of the closures of the Bowater Mersey mill in Brooklyn and Minas Basin pulp mill in Hantsport in 2012.
"In the run of a week, we'll send 50 to 70 truck loads of wood chips to Northern Pulp. That's over 2,000 tonnes," said Cassie Turple, a spokeswoman for the Ledwidge Lumber Company in Enfield.
Turple said she's concerned that closing the Northern Pulp mill would seriously affect their sawmill business as well.
"The majority of our wood chips go to that operation and if there were to be a shutdown there, then it would be dire to not only our sawmill but across the province to all sawmills," she said.
Bishop said he and other industry leaders sympathize with people's health concerns in Pictou County.
"Our members, including the folks at the mill, would love to see this issue solved today if it was possible," he said.
Environmental groups urge shutdown
Neither Northern Pulp nor the government have suggested that closing the mill is an option.
On Wednesday, a coalition of businesses and environmental groups took out a full page advertisement in a Pictou County newspaper urging the government to shut the mill down until the emission problems are fixed.
Northern Pulp, as well as Nova Scotia's Department of Environment, have said it takes time to do the necessary upgrades. The mill is in the process of ordering pollution control equipment that will reduce emissions that are currently well above the allowable limit.
They have said it will likely be May before new equipment is installed.
Bishop said the smog and health concerns should be alleviated once new equipment is on the stack next spring.
Particulate levels that create smog get tested twice a year by the province. The latest test, completed in November, showed levels 78 per cent above what's allowed near the mill in Abercrombie Point. The levels have not been tested since.
Air emissions will be tested again on Aug. 18, before a temporary shutdown for regular maintenance.