Nova Scotia

Province in conflict of interest over Northern Pulp project, activists allege

A group that opposes Northern Pulp's plan to dump effluent into the Northumberland Strait is calling on the Nova Scotia government to recuse itself from the controversial project's environment assessment process.

'How can they be judge of the project, when it's their project?' asks Jill Graham-Scanlan

Friends of the Northumberland Strait want the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to take over a review of the project. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A group that opposes Northern Pulp's plan to dump effluent into the Northumberland Strait is calling on the Nova Scotia government to recuse itself from the controversial project's environment assessment process. 

In September, Friends of the Northumberland Strait sent an eight-page letter to the provincial Environment Department and Environment and Climate Change Canada, urging the federal government to conduct the assessment instead. 

Jill Graham-Scanlan, the group's president, told CBC Radio's Information Morning that the province has several conflicts of interest and "is not in a position to make an unbiased determination" on whether the project should go ahead. 

Demonstrators gathered in July to protest plans by Northern Pulp to run an effluent pipe into the Northumberland Strait. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

The pulp mill in Pictou, N.S., plans to build a pipe that will send effluent far out into the Northumberland Strait. It will replace the current Boat Harbour facility that the province promised to close by 2020. 

A design for the new facility hasn't been finalized yet, but once it is, it will have to go through a provincial environmental assessment.

"The province needs to take a proactive approach on this," said Graham-Scanlan. "They need to recognize and acknowledge that they are in a conflict position and step back."

Paid $6M to Northern Pulp

Friends of the Northumberland Strait argues the province has a financial stake in the design and construction of the new facility, having already paid $6 million to Northern Pulp in 2017.

The government has said taxpayers will need to help pay for the new facility because the province is in a lease agreement with Northern Pulp. 

The group's letter to the federal and provincial governments also states the province "may face direct and significant financial consequences and litigation if it does not quickly approve the environmental assessment."

The group points to an indemnity agreement and memorandum of understanding the province signed in 1995 with the former owner of the mill.

In its letter, Friends of the Northumberland Strait write that “the stakes of this project are high. The Northumberland Strait is a valuable and delicate ecosystem." (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"That memorandum of understanding seems to imply that the province will do anything it can to make sure a new treatment facility is built," said Graham-Scanlan.

She said there are also concerns that a registered lobbyist for Northern Pulp now works for the government, and that the province seems to be co-operating with the company rather than providing information to concerned citizens. 

Province says decision 'will be based on science'

In a statement to CBC News, the government said the environment is its first concern. 

"Any decision will be based on science and the best available evidence," the Environment Department said. 

"It is not the province's decision whether or not a federal environmental assessment should take place. We have determined that the Northern Pulp effluent treatment plant project requires a provincial Class 1 environmental assessment. The federal government would decide whether or not it will do its own EA as well."

If the federal government does decide to do its own assessment, that doesn't mean the province is required to bow out, but Graham-Scanlan hopes it will.

"What would compel the province to step back? Doing the right thing," she said.

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With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning