Nova Scotia

Lumber mill not doing enough to stop silt runoff into river, say critics

Nova Scotia's Environment Department is responding once again to complaints about silt runoff from a Queens County sawmill.

Freeman Lumber says it's spending 'hundreds of thousands of dollars' to fix the problem

Paul Connolly says the mill hasn't yet fixed its silt runoff problem and he wants to know why. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's Environment Department is responding once again to complaints about silt runoff from a Queens County sawmill.

Bangs Falls resident Paul Connolly said the Freeman Lumber sawmill in Greenfield missed a September deadline to fix the problem of runoff flowing into the Medway River.

Just this week, heavy rains overwhelmed a settling-pond system that is under construction at the mill.

"The project is not done. The river is being polluted and we want to know what's up. Why is this continuing?" said Connolly.

Paul Connolly's brother, Larry Connolly, pours murky water he says he collected from a settling pond drainage ditch. (CBC)
The mill is under a provincial work order to address runoff and so far, the Environment Department said Freeman has fully co-operated to address the problem.

"We want to make this better," said Monte Hulan, project manager with Freeman Lumber.

He said the mill, one of Nova Scotia's oldest family-owned businesses, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past two years in hopes of solving the issue.

What Freeman is doing about it

So far it has dammed an old brook that ran through its property and acted as a silt collector. A new brook has been created to divert flow around the property.

Four new settling ponds on the south side of the property will collect and separate silt using chemical coagulants to clump particles, a process known as flocculation.

Two of the ponds have been completed. Two more have yet to be built. 

"We're going to be able to fix our problem and it's getting better every day," said Hulan.

Critics say they're worried about silt runoff into the Medway River. (CBC)

The new settling system is expected to be finished this fall.

The company still has to upgrade two existing settling ponds on north side of the property.

System overload 

Six centimetres of rain in 24 hours this week revealed the settling system is still not ready.

The two new settling ponds overflowed and were pumped into nearby forest rather than directly into the Medway River to better disperse the silt. 

That was the recommendation from engineering experts, the company said.

"Our system got tested big time," said Hulan. "No doubt."

The Environment Department dispatched an inspector to the mill Friday after receiving complaints.

Freeman Lumber is one of the oldest family-owned businesses in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Freeman Lumber, which has been in operation since 1830, is a major employer in the area.

As Connolly and his brother, Larry Connolly, were showing CBC the site, they were scolded by a mill employee walking her dog.

"Are you serious? There's 150 people who work here. Jobs. Myself included," she said.

Paul Connolly responded that he understood.

"But in society today, these problems have to be corrected," he said. "If this mill wants a future, they have to correct their environmental mistakes."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.