Nova Scotia

Union wants Northern Pulp effluent treatment plant built now

The union representing workers at the Northern Pulp mill wants the Nova Scotia government to allow the operator to start building a new effluent treatment site now and deal with the issue of a pipeline to the Northumberland Strait later.

Unifor suggests construction could happen now while pipeline details are worked out

Unifor national president Jerry Dias called for construction to begin immediately on an effluent treatment site for the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County. (CBC)

The union representing workers at the Northern Pulp mill wants the Nova Scotia government to allow the operator to start building a new effluent treatment site now and deal with the issue of a pipeline to the Northumberland Strait later.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias was in Halifax Wednesday for the release of a report that outlines the economic impacts of the Pictou County mill and what would happen were it to shut down.

Dias also used the opportunity to call on the government to grant some permits for construction work immediately, rather than waiting for everything related to a focus report to be complete.

"We've run out of time and that's why we did the study, that's why we asked for even more information, so that the entire province can make a concrete decision based on the relevant, pertinent, updated facts," he told reporters.

The study comes as mill owner Paper Excellence continues work on a focus study ordered by the province. The order followed a determination in March by then-environment minister Margaret Miller that the company's application for a permit to build a new effluent treatment site next to the Abercrombie Point mill, and a pipeline that would send the treated effluent to the strait, lacked sufficient information.

The Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation mill manufactures 280,000 tonnes of kraft pulp annually. (The Canadian Press)

But while the company says it's still on track to meet its submission goal of sometime in September, the Boat Harbour Act looms over everything. Passed by the government in 2015, it says the mill's current effluent treatment site at Boat Harbour is to close by Jan. 31, 2020.

It marked the first concrete effort by a government to close the site and address the concerns of the neighbouring Pictou Landing First Nation following successive broken promises by previous governments through the years since the mill first came to Pictou County.

Company officials have said without an extension to the act, the mill would be forced to shut down. In the study released Wednesday, the union pointed to numbers illustrating what that would mean in terms of potential losses in forestry-related jobs (2,679), tax revenue ($38 million), GDP and sawmill closures, along with a major contraction of the forestry industry.

It also highlighted the potential forestry-sector losses specifically to areas tied to the mill, such as Antigonish, Pictou, Colchester, Guysborough and Lunenburg counties and the Region of Queens Municipality.

"You can't have Northern Pulp close and then not have a lost industry," said Dias.

The report predicts the long-term effects of the mill closing would be a contraction of the industry and said it would take more than a decade before "there could be industry transition that takes advantage of the forest resource as it continues to grow."

Such a prediction comes against the backdrop of plans by the government to take a new approach to the forestry industry, one with an eye toward long-term sustainability that will reduce clear cutting but require years to complete.

'It'll work here in Nova Scotia'

But while the union and company continue to press for a reprieve, mounting opposition has grown to the mill's plan in the last few years, particularly the call to pipe treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Members of Pictou Landing First Nation, fishing organizations and others have raised concerns about the environmental unknowns related to such a move. On Wednesday, Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul said her community expects the government to uphold its commitment in the Boat Harbour Act.

Dias, noting the technology Paper Excellence wants to use is employed at other mills in the country already, said he doesn't believe there are environmental concerns related to a pipe.

"If it's good enough in remote communities in British Columbia, then certainly it'll work here in Nova Scotia."

But the company has yet to satisfy environmental regulations proving that point. A spokesperson for the Environment Department said Paper Excellence is aware of the information required and it would be reviewed upon submission.

On Wednesday, the union and company acknowledged one study required as part of the focus report — the human health risk assessment — would take more time to complete because it begins as baseline work and then requires information gathering that can take up to two years to complete.

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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

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