Nova Scotia

Boat Harbour compensation being negotiated with Nova Scotia

Negotiations about compensation from the province to the Pictou Landing First Nation that are part of the upcoming cleanup of the Boat Harbour pulp mill waste treatment facility will resume in the new year.

'I think the members in our community should be compensated,' says Chief Andrea Paul

Currently, a pipe carries 90 million litres of pulp mill waste a day from the Northern Pulp mill site at Abercrombie Point, under the East River, to a treatment facility at Pictou Landing. (CBC)

Negotiations about compensation from the province to the Pictou Landing First Nation that are part of the upcoming cleanup of the Boat Harbour pulp mill waste treatment facility will resume in the new year.

The province recently paid $100,000 to buy land on behalf of the band, in an area believed to be the site of a Mi'kmaq burial ground.

"I'm seeing commitments being fulfilled," said Chief Andrea Paul.

The Liberal government says it's planning to spend over $1 million to prepare the band for the 2020 closure and remediation of the foul-smelling waste lagoon located next to the band.

Effluent from a pulp mill and other industrial contaminants have been dumped there for decades.

What the government is promising

The province has pledged to open an office in the community and to hire a project liaison co-ordinator. It will also fund skills training, scholarships and independent engineering consultants for the band.

"We want to be in a position to have the band's full engagement and participation," said Ken Swain, the cleanup project manager for the province.

The Pictou Landing First Nation says it has already told the province it expects cash to be on the table when it resumes negotiations in 2016. Paul says the band is seeking a memorandum of understanding with the province.

"I think the band should be compensated. I think the members in our community should be compensated," said Paul.

When asked by CBC News about this, Swain did not specifically commit to providing cash.

"There certainly will be financial support to the community which will be in a variety of ways. We want to do it in a way that shows the continued commitment by the province of Nova Scotia to the cleanup and builds trust progressively as we move forward," Swain said.

It started with a broken pipe and a blockade 

The recent purchase of 26 hectares at Indian Cross Point at the East River is part of the government outreach.

The land is believed to be the site of a Mi'kmaq burial ground. It's also where the pipeline carrying 90 million litres of effluent a day from the Northern Pulp mill to Boat Harbour ruptured in June 2014. That rupture triggered a blockade of the cleanup area by aboriginals.

Paul ended the blockade after the Liberal government signed a deal promising to introduce legislation within a year to close the provincially-owned waste treatment facility.

The deal guaranteed a $1 million payment to the Pictou Landing First Nation if the government failed to introduce legislation. The legislation was passed earlier this year before the one-year deadline was reached.

That agreement also promised action on the likely burial ground where the pipeline ruptured.

Swain says an archeologist will be investigating the site in the spring.

'They can trust us'

Premier Stephen McNeil says his government is trying to earn the trust of the Pictou Landing First Nation, which has seen previous provincial governments promise to close Boat Harbour and fail to deliver.

"If it had been any other community other than an aboriginal community, it never would have been put there in the first place. We'll correct what I believe is a wrong," said McNeil.

"Do I trust the government? That's a big question," said Paul.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done."

Big clean up, Price tag unknown

Nova Scotia has budgeted $52 million so far toward the cleanup of Boat Harbour. It estimates there will be enough contaminants, when dried, to fill 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The chemicals include cadmium, mercury and small amounts of dioxins and furans.

The actual costs won't be known until after an extensive pilot project tests the dredging, drying and pressing technology that will be used in the cleanup.

McNeil says the extent of chemical contamination may not yet be known either, referring to past discharges from another nearby operation, Canso Chemicals.

Nova Scotia will be looking to Ottawa for financial help.

"We will need the federal government to come to the table," McNeil said.

Newly-elected Central Nova Liberal MP Sean Fraser said he's not in a position to commit federal money for the eventual cleanup of Boat Harbour, but there is support within the new federal government.

"It is a high priority for me. A very high priority," he said.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.