Nova Scotia

Environment minister defends handling of Northern Pulp shutdown timeline

Nova Scotia’s environment minister acknowledges the shutdown plan for Northern Pulp is more in the spirit of the Boat Harbour Act than in keeping with the letter of the legislation, but he says what’s happening now is the necessary approach.

Gordon Wilson issued a ministerial order outlining what's required as mill shuts down

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson says the terms of the Boat Harbour Act are clear, but the government is dealing with the situation as it exists today. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

Nova Scotia's environment minister acknowledges the shutdown plan for Northern Pulp is more in the spirit of the Boat Harbour Act than in keeping with the actual terms of the legislation, but he says what's happening now is the necessary approach to reaching an orderly conclusion.

On Wednesday, Gordon Wilson issued a ministerial order that essentially provides a road map for mill owner Paper Excellence to follow as it prepares for the end of operations at the Pictou County site.

While the mill has stopped making pulp, materials will still flow to Boat Harbour as late as the end of April as the mill clears pipes, lines and caps runoff water and leachate. It's all part of the process of putting the site into hibernation as the company continues to try to satisfy the requirements of the environmental assessment process.

Wilson's order provides timelines for when various parts of the work need to be completed, as well as environmental monitoring requirements throughout the process.

A brief history of Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp

CBC News Nova Scotia

1 year ago
6:29
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. 6:29

The terms of the Boat Harbour Act are clear, but Wilson said the government is dealing with the situation as it exists today. Part of that means they're living up to the spirit of the law, if not the letter of it, he said.

"We know that it would not be responsible for us to cut that pipe off today, for anybody's sake," he told reporters in Halifax

Mill has already removed most chemicals

In a statement, Paper Excellence CEO Brian Baarda said the company has transferred almost all chemicals from the mill property to other operating sites in the country and the hibernation plan is on track to be complete by the end of April.

Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul issued a statement saying her community supports "the environmentally safe hibernation of the mill."

"The ministerial order ensures the protection of the environment and is a small step to the full cleanup of Boat Harbour," she said.

Paul said she'd like more information about what will happen with leachate from the site after the end of April. The ministerial order calls for a plan by the end of August for capping industrial landfills on the mill property. Although it's not spelled out in the order, Wilson said the company is expected to have a way to deal with leachate that does not include Boat Harbour by the end of April.

Tory Leader Tim Houston says the government needed to follow the Northern Pulp file more closely as soon as the Boat Harbour Act was passed in 2015. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Tory Leader Tim Houston, who represents Pictou East, said honouring the spirit of the Boat Harbour Act isn't the way legislation is supposed to work.

"When you pass a piece of legislation, you should understand the ramifications, you should understand what fulfilling the legislation requires and you should work to make sure you understand that's happening," he told reporters.

Houston and NDP Leader Gary Burrill both said there would not have been a need for an extended use of Boat Harbour if the government took a more hands-on approach to managing the Northern Pulp file immediately after the Boat Harbour Act was passed in 2015.

Friday is a major step in bringing an end to the legacy of Boat Harbour, a situation McNeil has called an example of environmental racism.

Terms of loan program coming soon

But although the day may be a cause for celebration for some, the premier said he's also cognizant that the end of the mill isn't a happy time for everyone. Hundreds of people who work at the mill have received layoff notices and people who work in or connected to the forestry industry are dealing with a very precarious reality.

"I'm always mindful of the fact that depending on where you sit in this conversation, your feelings [on Friday] could be different," said McNeil.

"I believe, quite frankly, the right decision was landed on, but that doesn't mean you don't feel for those who have been impacted in a negative way, who [have] worries about their own livelihood and their families' livelihood."

McNeil said he expects the final details of a loan program announced recently by the forestry transition team should be complete by the end of the week.

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