Nova Scotia

N.S. to spend $19M to dredge Boat Harbour after Northern Pulp fails to submit cleanup plan

Nova Scotia has taken over plans to remove sludge from Boat Harbour after Northern Pulp failed to submit a decommissioning plan, continuing to delay the cleanup of Boat Harbour.

Company was expected to submit a decommissioning plan to the province by Feb. 28

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., halted production in January 2020 after the provincial government refused its application to build a new treatment facility. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia is spending $19 million to remove sludge from Boat Harbour after Northern Pulp missed a second deadline to submit a plan for cleaning up the waste.

"We cannot continue to wait. Taking one management approach makes good sense to ensure it's managed in a responsible way and timelines stay on track," Lloyd Hines, minister responsible for Nova Scotia Lands, said in a news release Monday.

The Pictou County pulp mill halted production in January 2020 after the provincial government refused its application to build a new treatment facility that would have pumped treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait. 

Northern Pulp was then responsible for removing the contaminated sludge deposited in the aeration stabilization basin.

The provincial government ordered the company to develop a decommissioning plan outlining the removal and disposal of all solid waste around the facility by no later than Aug. 1, 2020.

After failing to submit a plan, the company was provided an extension to Feb. 28, 2021. A complete plan still hasn't been submitted, according to the news release.

The release said without an approved decommissioning plan, there is a significant risk it could overlap with the province's $292-million Boat Harbour remediation project, further delaying the cleanup.

The dredge system that will scoop out thousands of tonnes of contaminated sludge and sediment from pulp mill effluent at Boat Harbour. (Nova Scotia Lands Inc.)

The province said it will dredge and dispose of the sludge to ensure the job is completed efficiently and to provide "clarity and closure" to Pictou Landing First Nation, which has been a neighbour to the effluent facility since the mid-1960s.

"Our ultimate goal is to return Boat Harbour, or A'se'k, to its original state as a tidal estuary," Hines said. "It's a commitment to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation and Pictou County and we intend to keep it."

The cleanup is expected to begin in 2022 once the federal government completes and approves its environmental assessment process.

Northern Pulp did not address in a statement it issued Tuesday the responsibility it bears for potentially delaying the cleanup.

"Northern Pulp Nova Scotia is pleased to collaborate with Nova Scotia Lands Inc. on the safe and environmentally sound remediation of Boat Harbour," the company said.

The company said it submitted a draft decommissioning plan to Nova Scotia Lands on the Feb. 28 deadline.

"During follow-up discussions, it was determined that the most effective way to achieve our common goal of remediating Boat Harbour is to have a single unified approach, instead of two independent projects."