Nova Scotia

Cleanup of Boat Harbour contaminated site will get more extensive environmental assessment

The provincial government will require a far more thorough environmental assessment for the cleanup of Boat Harbour.

Wastewater lagoon to receive 275-day assessment, compared to shorter 50-day review

The Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp. mill is seen in Abercrombie, N.S., last year. The Nova Scotia government will require a far more thorough environmental assessment for the cleanup of Boat Harbour, the Pictou County pulp mill's wastewater lagoon. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia government will require a far more extensive environmental assessment for the cleanup of Boat Harbour, the Pictou County pulp mill wastewater lagoon that is the province's largest contaminated site.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin made the announcement Friday morning. The cleanup project will require a Class 2 environmental assessment, which typically takes 275 days, compared to the 50-day review period for Class 1 assessments. The work is being overseen by the Crown corporation Nova Scotia Lands. Among other things, the longer time period allows for more public engagement.

Rankin said the decision was based on the complexity of the project and the uncertainty of both the levels and the severity of the contaminants. Besides the mill's effluent, Boat Harbour also had untreated chemicals poured directly into it via a former supplier to the mill, Canso Chemicals, which was located in the same area.

2020 closure date remains the plan

"All of those things needs to be considered when we go through the next steps in the process," said Rankin.

"We felt very certain that the Class 2 would give us the step-wise approach to be able to fully analyze the site."

The ultimate goal is to return the site to a tidal estuary. Rankin said the decision to use a Class 2 assessment in no way changes the government's legislated commitment to close Boat Harbour by January 2020.

"It's not the cleanup that needs to be completed by 2020, it's the closure."

Cost isn't an issue

The latest estimate for cleanup costs is $132 million. Rankin said any updates on that figure would come from the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Department, but for his purposes the cost of completing the work is immaterial.

"This cleanup is too important," he said.

"This has gone on for far too long. The Nova Scotia government has in the past made these commitments at least four times and those commitments have not been upheld."

Friday's announcement comes as Northern Pulp works on a design for a replacement treatment facility for its effluent to take the place of Boat Harbour. That project requires a Class 1 assessment, a much shorter process than a Class 2 assessment.

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul welcomes an extended assessment for the Boat Harbour cleanup but continues to believe the same type of assessment is necessary for the treatment site.

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul welcomed the extended assessment for the cleanup process, which she said makes her feel more confident about the work.

Paul repeated her call for a similar process to be used for the new treatment facility that will replace Boat Harbour. She is also lobbying for the federal government to get involved in that process. The longer assessment would go a long way toward addressing public concerns and questions, said Paul.

"I don't know how the government can still feel confident that the Class I [assessment] would suffice."

2 different projects

Rankin stressed that cleaning up Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp's new facility are two different projects. One of the reasons the shorter assessment is more appropriate for the replacement site, which would see waste treated and then fed into Pictou Harbour via a pipe, is because it's a less complex project, said the minister.

"We expect that to be designed to meet today's environmental standards," said Rankin. "They're vastly different projects and they have two different processes to follow. Both of them are rigorous and thorough."

Northern Pulp hasn't submitted it's proposal yet. Environment Department officials said they have also not received an indication of whether the federal government may intervene on that project, something fishermen, the P.E.I. government and others have all called for.

Both Tim Houston, the PC MLA for Pictou East, and interim PC Leader Karla MacFarlane have asked the province for a much lengthier environmental review of the proposal to discharge treated effluent from the mill directly into the Northumberland Strait.

While cleanup costs have been pegged at more than $130 million, the cost of a new treatment facility remains unknown.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca