Nova Scotia

Fishermen worry Northern Pulp treatment plan will create 'dead zone'

Northern Pulp met with some of toughest critics Monday as it opened public consultations on a new effluent treatment facility for the Pictou County, N.S., pulp mill.

Plans, timeline revealed for Pictou County pulp mill's waste-water treatment plant

Dozens of skeptical fishermen showed up Monday night for a private briefing by Northern Pulp at the Pictou County Wellness Centre. (CBC)

Northern Pulp met with some of its toughest critics Monday as it opened public consultations on a new effluent treatment facility for the Pictou County pulp mill.

Dustin MacKeil was one of dozens of skeptical fishermen invited for a private briefing by the company at the Pictou County Wellness Centre.

"The lies from the government, the lies from Northern Pulp — how can you trust them? Their track record is no good at all," said MacKeil.

He believes the proposed outfall threatens several fisheries in the area.

"They are going to put product into our fishing zones. It's going to ruin our fishery. Everybody knows it," MacKeil said.

Plans revealed

Earlier in the day, consultants and company officials briefed reporters on their plans, revealing for the first time the proposed location for the effluent pipe outfall in the Northumberland Strait — 4.5 kilometres from the current release point at Pictou Landing First Nation.

Pictou County fisherman Dustin MacKeil said the proposed outfall from the Northern Pulp mill threatens fisheries in the area. (CBC)

About 75,000 cubic metres of waste water a day will be treated at a new facility on company property adjacent to the mill.

The treated effluent will be carried in a polyethylene pipe across the bottom of Pictou Harbour and released into the strait from six large dispersal pipes on the ocean floor.

Federal standards

Northern Pulp technical director Terri Fraser said modelling carried out by the engineering consulting firm Stantec addresses some concerns from fishermen. Northern Pulp did not release the study.

Fraser said modelling showed water temperatures will return to background levels within eight metres of the outfall and salinity within 100 metres. Both are within federal standards, she said.

Northern Pulp met with some of its toughest critics Monday as it opened public consultations on a new effluent treatment facility for the Pictou County pulp mill. (CBC)

"We hope that assures them, but we will see. That's why we have these meetings," Fraser said.

MacKeil doesn't buy it. He said the outfall will create a "dead zone" that kills larvae swimming through it.

Northern Pulp said the new system will continue to meet all federal environmental standards for suspended solids and oxygen depletion. It also says the colour of the effluent will improve.

Environmental assessment next year

The company also revealed its timetable for advancing the project through the regulatory process — a critical event, given the tight deadline Northern Pulp is facing.

The Nova Scotia government has set a deadline to close the existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour by January 2020.

The company will submit an environmental assessment of the project for review by Nova Scotia's Department of Environment in the summer of 2018, triggering a 30-day public consultation on its final plan. The province will respond 20 days later, approving, rejecting, amending or asking for more work to be done.

The company is holding public and business sessions in New Glasgow and Abercrombie on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. It said it will incorporate that feedback into its plans, which will be presented again to the public in the spring. 

Cost unclear

Negotiations over who will operate the new treatment facility — and more importantly, who will pay for it — are still ongoing between Northern Pulp and the Nova Scotia government.

In the 1960s, the province lured the original operator with a promise of water and waste-water treatment. In 1995, the province assumed environmental liability for the settling ponds treatment facility at Boat Harbour.

The estimated cleanup cost when Boat Harbour closes is now $133 million.

Northern Pulp has not released the cost estimates of its new facility.


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.