$6M in taxpayer dollars for N.S. effluent plant stinks, says opponent
'It's a conflict of interest, a direct conflict of interest,' says fishermen's association president
Nova Scotia taxpayers have contributed $6 million toward design work and engineering studies for a new wastewater treatment plant that will handle effluent discharged from the Northern Pulp paper mill in Pictou County.
Those against the plan to dump what comes out of the facility into the Northumberland Strait are not happy the province is picking up part of the cost.
"It's a conflict of interest. A direct conflict of interest," said Ronnie Heighton, a lobster fisherman and president of the Northumberland Fishermen's Association.
Heighton said it isn't right for the Liberal government to pay for part of the treatment facility when it is also in charge of conducting an environmental assessment of the project.
He and other opponents are worried over the effluent's impact on the environment.
"It's going to smother the bottom. There will be no fish living. It'll just be a dead zone in the Northumberland Strait," Heighton said.
The plant will replace the existing, government-owned Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility, which the province has promised to close by Jan. 31, 2020.
The province said it needs to contribute taxpayer money toward the new plant because it's in a lease agreement with Northern Pulp. Under the Boat Harbour Act, the existing plant must be closed 10 years before the lease ends.
"The contribution allows negotiations with Northern Pulp to continue and will be credited toward any future agreement," said Marla MacInnis, a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
The $6-million figure "is part of a larger discussion with Northern Pulp which is yet to be concluded."
MacInnis said the department is working "to find a solution which ensures an environmentally friendly and economically sustainable future" for Pictou Landing First Nation, the Pictou area, Northern Pulp and others.
Heighton, however, thinks the federal government should be in charge of the environmental assessment — not the province.
"We can't trust the provincial government," Heighton said. "This has to go to the feds. At least they'll be somewhat independent."
A spokesperson for Northern Pulp told CBC negotiations are ongoing between the company and the province and that the final cost of the effluent treatment plant has yet to be determined.
There is also no deal on who will pay for it or own it once it's built.
with files from Jean Laroche