Nova Scotia

Pictou Landing chief 'shocked' by look of Boat Harbour months after mill shutdown

For the first time in her life, the chief of Pictou Landing First Nation says she can't smell the familiar stench of effluent being dumped into Boat Harbour. 

'It just gives you that glimpse of hope ... of what we can get back to,' says chief

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul says she was shocked by the clarity of the water in Boat Harbour and the lack of smell. (CBC)

For the first time in her life, the chief of Pictou Landing First Nation says she can't smell the familiar stench of effluent being dumped into Boat Harbour. 

It's been nearly three months since the Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie, N.S., shut down and stopped sending effluent to the harbour that surrounds the First Nation.

Some wastewater from the mill is still ending up at the Boat Harbour treatment facility, but Northern Pulp said this week that all liquid waste will stop going there by the end of the month.

The water at Boat Harbour used to look dark and foamy after decades of being a dumping ground. But Chief Andrea Paul posted a drone video of the settling ponds on Twitter this week that shows many of the aerators have been shut off and the foam has largely subsided. 

"I was so shocked at the difference. There's no smell. The water quality, you're seeing the difference already," Paul told CBC's Information Morning

Elders from the community remember Boat Harbour — or A'se'k in Mi'kmaq — before it became home to the mill's treatment facility in 1967. They say it was a pristine area where they'd go to pick berries, swim and catch fish.

The mill shut down on Jan. 31 after Premier Stephen McNeil refused to allow the treatment facility to continue to operate past a legislated deadline. As the province's largest employer in the forestry sector, it took with it hundreds of jobs as the industry scrambled to find a new way forward.

Aerators churn up mill waste in Boat Harbour last year. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Northern Pulp said that as of Wednesday, wastewater from the mill's power boiler will no longer be sent to Boat Harbour as it prepares to stop sending all waste by the end of April.

Remediation of the polluted site is expected to cost $200 million and take years to complete. 

"Right now it just gives you that glimpse of hope, that glimpse of what we can get back to," Paul said. 

Northern Pulp calls for 'timely' EAP

Despite a directive from the province to shut down Boat Harbour, Northern Pulp hasn't given up on trying to get a new treatment facility through the province's environmental process.

Last week, mill owner Paper Excellence Canada asked that Nova Scotia Environment begin "a timely, well-defined, and outcome-based environmental assessment process."

"We want to continue to invest and operate in Nova Scotia and are committed to working closer with local governments and residents to coexist like the other 89 pulp and paper mills do in their communities across Canada," Graham Kissack, Paper Excellence Canada's vice-president of environment, said in a statement. 

In December, Environment Minister Gordon Wilson said the company's attempt to get approval for the project, which would send treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait, lacked sufficient scientific information and would require an environmental assessment report.

A brief history of Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp

3 years ago
Duration 6:30
This timeline covers major events from the 1960s to 2019. It begins with the construction of the pulp mill at Abercrombie Point to Premier Stephen McNeil's 2019 announcement that the Boat Harbour effluent treatment site would close.

Paul said Pictou Landing First Nation will be watching closely.

"We'll definitely be following that very, very closely because what we have right now is a gift. What we're living with right now is definitely something that we haven't been able to enjoy in so many years," she said. 

While COVID-19 means community members can't physically gather to mark the official shutdown of Boat Harbour at the end of the month, Paul said that doesn't mean people won't celebrate.

"Maybe we can do something from our own homes, maybe we can do something in our yards. It's just something to signify this historical event for us," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning