Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia to split costs with Northern Pulp for pipe removal, cleanup

The province announced an agreement with Paper Excellence, the company that owns the Northern Pulp mill, on Tuesday. As per the terms of the agreement, the province will cover half the cleanup costs, to a maximum of $10 million.

The province will cover half the cleanup costs, to a maximum of $10 million

The Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County stopped operations at the end of January. (The Canadian Press)

The Nova Scotia government will pay up to $10 million toward Northern Pulp's effort to remove the pipe that connected the Pictou County mill to Boat Harbour, along with other required cleanup work.

The province announced an agreement with Paper Excellence, the company that owns the mill, on Tuesday. As per the terms of the agreement, the province will cover half the cleanup costs, to a maximum of $10 million. All project costs will be validated by accounting firm Grant Thornton.

For decades, the mill sent its effluent through a pipe from its Abercrombie Point property to Boat Harbour, the former tidal estuary that was used as a treatment site. That stopped at the end of January, when the Boat Harbour Act came into force and the company failed to secure approval to build a new treatment system.

Without a treatment method for its effluent, the company has not been able to operate and has worked toward a shutdown of the mill.

Part of that process, outlined in an order from Environment Minister Gordon Wilson, is the capping, cleanup and removal of the pipe, along with the removal of leachate and cleanup of ditches and settling and aeration basins on the mill property.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil at a press briefing on Friday, May 8, 2020. (CBC)

The government owns the pipe that connected Boat Harbour to the mill, which had a 30-year lease to use Boat Harbour as a treatment site. When the government passed the Boat Harbour Act in 2015, it announced the company's lease would end 10 years early in an effort to fix what Premier Stephen McNeil has said is one of the province's worst examples of environmental racism.

During his COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, McNeil said the province is liable for the pipe as well as some of the ponds around Boat Harbour that had to be cleaned out.

Beyond that, however, he wanted to ensure proper cleanup of the mill property so there aren't future problems with leachate.

"I felt I had a responsibility to all Nova Scotians not to create another environmental issue [somewhere] else," he said.

"We invested to make sure that our pipe, our responsibilities are cleaned up and that there's not another environmental challenge that some future government is going to have to deal with and we'll continue down that process."

McNeil said any costs for the project exceeding a total of $20 million would fall entirely to Paper Excellence.

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul, who led a blockade in 2014 following a break in the pipe that spewed untreated effluent, recently said she's amazed by the difference she's seen in Boat Harbour even after just a few months of the site no longer being used to treat effluent.

Company evaluating next step

The province has committed to cleaning up Boat Harbour, a process that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and is expected to begin sometime in 2021, following an environmental assessment of the project by the federal government.

Meanwhile, the company has said it is evaluating the terms of an environmental assessment report it would need to follow to potentially get approval to build a new effluent treatment facility.

Company officials have said they remain committed to the mill and province's forestry sector, which has experienced a major downturn following the closure of Northern Pulp.

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