Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp decision to be based on science, environment minister says

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Gordon Wilson insisted Thursday his decision on whether to grant Northern Pulp permission to build a new effluent treatment plan will hinge on science and not the potential impact it might have on the mill's future. Wilson has until Tuesday to decide.

Gordon Wilson says he has read the 3,000 submissions filed in response to mill's request

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Gordon Wilson has until Tuesday to make a decision about Northern Pulp's plan to build a new effluent treatment plan. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Gordon Wilson insisted Thursday his decision on whether to grant Northern Pulp permission to build a new effluent treatment plan will hinge on science and not the potential impact it will have on the mill's future.

But Wilson also admitted that potential job losses as a result of the Pictou County pulp mill's shutdown could play a part in what will likely be the biggest decision he'll ever make as environment minister.

"Certainly I think that would be my responsibility, but again my responsibility is also to ensure that there needs to be science and best evidence that supports any decision," he told reporters following a cabinet meeting.

"Any decision that a regulator makes in the world of environmental assessment is based on science and best evidence."

The province has until Tuesday to decide whether to approve Northern Pulp's proposal for a new treatment facility that would pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait. It would replace the Boat Harbour facility, which is slated to close by the end of next month.

Without the provincially-owned facility in Boat Harbour up and running, the mill has nowhere to send its wastewater and according to company, will be forced to stop production.

Northern Pulp has asked the province to extend the legally-binding shutdown date of its Boat Harbour treatment facility, but the province has refused. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Wilson has three choices: he could approve the new plant, he could reject it outright, or he could ask for more information.

On Thursday, he refused to say if he had already made up his mind, or hint at when he would inform the public of his decision.

"I'm not at any position right now to say that I've made a decision," he said. "I think when that time is right, I certainly will share it with everybody."

Wilson said he read the company's so-called focus report and all the responses to it.

"I've gone through over 3,000 submissions," he said. "It's been quite a read."

Fishermen, First Nations groups and others in Pictou, N.S., have long expressed concern over the plan for the new treatment facility.

Premier Stephen McNeil has refused to extend the legally-binding shutdown date of the Boat Harbour facility. (Robert Short/CBC)

Premier Stephen McNeil insisted he didn't know what Wilson would decide, nor had he been in touch with the company or nearby Pictou Landing First Nation, both with a major stake in what happens next.

Although Northern Pulp has asked the province to extend the legally-binding shutdown date under the Boat Harbour Act, the province has refused.

On Thursday, McNeil stuck to what has become his standard response when asked about the possibility of amending the act.

"Nothing has changed. I expect to hear from the (minister) and I look forward to hearing from him," he said.

As far as preparing for the decision, McNeil said his government has been focused on what to do with the supply of wood fibre that the mill buys, rather than the mill itself.

"The biggest issue facing many of the saw mills around is chips," he said. "What do they do with them? What are the options? Are there other places for them to sell their product?"

'We can't risk the environment'

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said protecting the environment should be the primary focus of Wilson's decision.

"I have a lot of concerns about what's been proposed," said Houston, although he refused to state categorically his opposition to Northern Pulp's plan.

"We can't risk the Northumberland Strait. We can't risk the environment."

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Gary Burrill focused on the promise to Pictou Landing First Nation to stop treating the mill's effluent in their community.

"It's 50 days from today that we meet the deadline of the Boat Harbour Act and the first thing they should do is declare their intention to uphold the deadline and uphold that act," he said.

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