Nova Scotia

Taxpayers won't likely shoulder full cost of Boat Harbour replacement, minister says

Infrastructure Renewal Minister Lloyd Hines says the public should be prepared to pay for a portion of the new effluent treatment facility for Northern Pulp, but he does not expect the public to shoulder all the costs.

Opposition leader calls for more transparency in Northern Pulp negotiations, worries about looming deadlines

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie, N.S., is seen on Oct. 11, 2017. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Infrastructure Minister Lloyd Hines says the public should be prepared to pay for a portion of the new effluent treatment facility for Northern Pulp, but he does not expect taxpayers to shoulder all the costs.

"It's highly unlikely the province will be on the hook for the entire solution," he told reporters at Province House on Thursday.

The Liberals passed legislation in 2015 to close the Boat Harbour treatment lagoons by 2020 and clean up the site. The move requires a new treatment site for the Pictou County pulp mill's waste.

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

An indemnity agreement the government signed with the mill's former owner in 1995 suggests the province would be entirely on the hook for costs, but Hines said that's part of the "process of the past."

"Now we're dealing with it in the present," he said. "In the present, we look at partnering, we look at sharing liability, we look at reasonable partners who want to reach an objective who want to get things done."

Ultimately, it means the government is negotiating with the mill for a scenario where the province wouldn't have to foot the full bill, said Hines. Asked about the province's leverage in talks, Hines said the government has the "ultimate hammer" of authority in the legislature.

Boat Harbour has been receiving waste water from the nearby Northern Pulp mill since the late 1960s and has now accumulated enough contaminants, when dried, to fill about 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Other outstanding issues to be settled include the design of the facility and determining ownership, said Hines. While he acknowledged 2020 is quickly approaching, Hines said everyone involved with the project assures him it remains on schedule.

Kathy Cloutier, director of communications for the mill's owner, Paper Excellence, said in an email that "negotiations have yet to commence regarding funding of the proposed effluent treatment facility."

While the company is "fully committed to undertaking all measures within our ability to ensure there is a new treatment facility in operation by January 2020," Cloutier also said the company expects the government to honour all contractual obligations as per the lease agreement for Boat Harbour, which runs until Dec. 21, 2030.

Interim PC Leader Karla MacFarlane, who represents Pictou West and has been critical of the mill, said she thinks the public should be getting more information about negotiations and what it could mean for taxpayers.

"We are months away from July, where we will have Northern Pulp file for their [environmental] assessment," she said.

MacFarlane said people in Pictou County deserve more transparency than what they've received on the project.

She worries the project will be delayed if the federal government steps in over concerns from area fishermen about plans for treated effluent to be piped into Pictou harbour.


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