Boat Harbour pollution made people feel 'powerless,' says chief

The chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation made an impassioned speech before a legislative committee on Monday, about the negative impact the Boat Harbour effluent plant has had on the community.

Northern Pulp says effluent plant shutdown possible, but not probable within 5 years

Chief Andrea Paul gave an emotional speech before a law amendments committee meeting Monday. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation made an impassioned speech before a legislative committee on Monday, about the negative impact the Boat Harbour effluent plant has had on the community.

"Until you've lived in Pictou Landing and until you've actually talked to people from my community, you will never understand what Boat Harbour has done to us," said Andrea Paul.

On April 17, the province announced legislation that would see the current effluent plant cleaned up and closed within the next five years.

The plant treats wastewater from the Northern Pulp mill.

Paul said she's grateful for the legislation. She said the community came to accept Boat Harbour's pollution as a fact of life, despite promises that when the waste treatment plant began operation in the late 1960s, the water would remain just as clean as before the plant went into operation.

"We felt powerless. We felt like there was nothing we could do to change that," said Paul.

'It is possible, but it's not probable'

She said within days of the plant becoming operational, the fish in Boat Harbour began gathering in only one area, as it was the only spot where they could get enough oxygen.

Meanwhile, the representatives of the Northern Pulp mill said Monday there's only a 50 per cent chance of meeting the shutdown timeline.

"It is possible, but it's not probable," said Terri Fraser, Northern Pulp's technical manager.

Brian Hebert, the lawyer for the Pictou Landing First Nation, disputes that. He says engineers from the province — and independent engineers the First Nation has consulted with — say the timeline is feasible.

As well, Hebert says there are studies detailing where the wastewater treatment plant could be located and what would be needed.

Fraser says the reason why the timeline isn't feasible is because carrying out an environmental assessment alone will take at least 2.5 years. To further complicate matters, she also said Northern Pulp hasn't begun consultations with the province about meeting the timeline.

'A tremendous amount of loss'

Last summer, a pipe to Boat Harbour leaked effluent and forced a shutdown of the mill. In response, the community formed a blockade to pressure all sides to come up with a plan to shut down the treatment plant once and for all.

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

On April 17, the province said it could take up to 10 years to clean up the pulp mill waste treatment plant.

Paul said Boat Harbour has great meaning to the community.

"There was a tremendous amount of loss and people always talk about the money, but it goes way more than just the money. Our people lived and grew up at Boat Harbour. They did everything in Boat Harbour," she said.

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