Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp poised to submit revised plan for effluent treatment facility

Northern Pulp intends to submit revised plans within a month for an effluent treatment facility at its mothballed paper mill in Nova Scotia's Pictou County, according to an affidavit filed this week in a B.C. court.

Stakeholders to hear key details by end of April, according to affidavit

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., viewed from Pictou, N.S., Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019. (Robert Short/CBC)

Northern Pulp intends to submit revised plans within a month for an effluent treatment facility at its mothballed paper mill in Nova Scotia's Pictou County, according to an affidavit filed this week in a B.C. court.

The affidavit said the company — which is seeking protection from creditors — intends to share key details of the project with certain stakeholders by the end of April.

Bruce Chapman, the mill's general manager, said Northern Pulp anticipates submitting a project description for an environmental assessment by May 13.

It is unclear whether the new plan involves discharging treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait, a major source of controversy with its first proposal. 

However, the timeline references "detailed design engineering and ice scouring" to be completed by early next year. Ice scouring during winter in the strait is an issue for pipeline location.

The company did not respond to a request for comment from CBC News. 

Plans for environmental assessment

Northern Pulp's plans to pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait were still hung up in the provincial environmental assessment process when a January 2020 government deadline to close the existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour expired.

With nowhere to treat nearly 75 million litres a day of effluent, the mill at Abercrombie Point closed, throwing 302 people out of work.

Northern Pulp expects the new effluent treatment project will be classified as a "modification to existing infrastructure" and subject to a 50-day review — a timeline that can be extended at the discretion of the environment minister.

The timeline expects environmental studies to be substantially completed by March 22, 2022, with an environmental assessment decision by June 29, 2022.

Seeking another $6M to carry on

The affidavit is in support of an application to extend creditor protection from the end of April to Oct. 31, 2021, and to draw down an additional $6 million from lenders, including its parent company, Paper Excellence, to continue restructuring.

Court documents released last year show Northern Pulp owes creditors $309 million. Paper Excellence is owed $213 million and the province $84 million.

In the affidavit, Northern Pulp said "meaningful progress" has been made in discussions with the province over the environmental assessment process.

The company said it has revised its design and plans for the new treatment facility to include stakeholder concerns.

'It may be necessary to commence litigation'

Several disputes with the province remain unresolved, including:

  • An appeal of the 2020 ministerial order on how Northern Pulp was to manage the mill during the shutdown.
     
  • A judicial review of the order requiring an environmental assessment of its proposed effluent treatment facility.
     
  • Potential compensation over the Boat Harbour Act which closed the provincially owned facility 10 years before the lease with Northern Pulp was due to expire.

Northern Pulp said it is committed to negotiating a mutually agreeable settlement with the provincial government.

"Nonetheless, in the event that the petitioners and the province are unable to reach an agreement with respect to clarity in the environmental assessment process for the new replacement ETF [effluent treatment facility], or if the settlement discussions stall, it may be necessary to commence litigation to resolve disputes with the province relating to the passage of the Boat Harbour Act and the closure of the mill," the affidavit said.

The decision to shut down the Boat Harbour facility was a commitment by the province to address concerns from the Pictou Landing First Nation, which had been an unwilling neighbour of the mill's waste treatment site for more than 50 years.

The band also opposed the mill plan to pipe treated effluent into the Strait.

Chief Andrea Paul said she has not been consulted on the revised project.

"I don't know about their plan," she said in a brief email to CBC News.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Withers

Reporter

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.

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