Nova Scotia

Minister not considering extension to comment period on Northern Pulp report

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson is not considering a request to extend the public comment period on the Northern Pulp focus report or the amount of time his department staff has to review people’s submissions.

Environmental group says volume of documents warrants more time

The pubic has until 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 8 to submit comments on the Northern Pulp focus report. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Gordon Wilson is not considering a request to extend the public comment period on the Northern Pulp focus report or the amount of time his department staff has to review people's submissions.

Lawyers for Ecojustice, on behalf of the group Friends of the Northumberland Strait, wrote to Wilson on Thursday requesting 30 additional days for the public comment period and 30 more days for department staff to review submissions.

"It is clear that this project is highly controversial and has generated a very high level of public interest and concern, within the Pictou area and across Nova Scotia," lawyers write in the letter, which was released publicly.

Northern Pulp is seeking approval to build a new effluent treatment facility at its Pictou County mill site, a proposal that includes using a pipeline to move treated effluent to the Northumberland Strait.

The lawyers for the environmental groups say the volume of documents involved — in the range of 2,500 pages — and technical nature of much of the material is cause to give the public more time.

But Wilson noted the public comment period for the mill's previous submission, which his predecessor deemed to be insufficient and thus ordered the focus report, was for 30 days and received about 4,000 submissions.

"We want to hear from Nova Scotians," Wilson told reporters at Province House.

"Thirty days has always been adequate in the past; it's worked very well and I certainly feel that it should meet the requirements this time also."

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson says he thinks 30 days is enough time for people to file comments on the proposal. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Wilson said the 30-day comment period for a Class 1 environmental assessment is the standard used in the province.

But NDP Leader Gary Burrill said that's precisely the problem.

"This is a major, major project with many, many sides," he said.

"We said from the beginning that a Class 1 assessment will not work to establish the kind of public confidence that you need to get out of an environmental assessment and that's plainly the case now."

Tory Leader Tim Houston agreed, and said it's reasonable for the minister to consider the group's request.

"There's no room for error on this file," he said. "Thirty days is a short time for a document of this significance and this volume."

With no changes to the timeline, the public has until 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 8 to submit comments and Wilson must deliver his decision by Dec. 17.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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