Nova Scotia

Pictou officials learned of Northern Pulp pipe route from media reports

Mayor Jim Ryan said the town is worried about the proposed route for the effluent pipe. It would cross the town's watershed and the Caribou wellfield, a source of domestic drinking water for the town and some people in the immediate area.

Pipeline that would cross town's watershed, drinking supply not acceptable: mayor

The mayor of the Town of Pictou says the proposed route for a wastewater pipeline by Northern Pulp would cross the town's watershed and protected drinking water area. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Representatives for the town of Pictou, N.S., did not learn the proposed route for a new effluent pipe from Northern Pulp would cross their watershed until the plan was made public in media reports.

Officials from the pulp mill met with Pictou Landing First Nation officials and fishermen's associations several weeks ago to detail the new proposed route after problems were discovered with the original route.

The mill needs a new effluent treatment site because Nova Scotia legislation calls for the closure of the 140-hectare treatment lagoon at Boat Harbour by January 2020.

Both proposed plans from the mill — the original and the subsequent "Plan B" — have drawn criticism and opposition because they would ultimately see treated waste water pumped into the Northumblerand Strait, something that's raised fears about the future of local fishing areas and stocks.

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan said the town's problems with the plan only grew when officials learned Plan B, which would include an overland stretch of pipeline along the causeway across Pictou Harbour, would also cross the town's watershed and the Caribou wellfield, a source of domestic drinking water for the town and some people in the immediate area.

"I would have thought if the mill or the planners were aware that [the proposed route] passed through the town of Pictou watershed that we would have been seen as an interested party — let's put it that way — prior to it going to the media," Ryan said in a phone interview.

At Monday evening's council meeting, letters will be tabled that were exchanged between Ryan, on behalf of council, and Bruce Chapman, the mill's general manager.

Ryan said they include the town expressing concern about not being informed of Plan B ahead of time, Chapman apologizing and stressing the early nature of the plan, and Ryan stating that the plan is unacceptable to the town.

Two weeks ago, a leak was discovered in an underground effluent pipe at Boat Harbour, just a day before mill officials were to meet with Pictou Landing First Nation and fishermen's associations.

A broken underground pipe that leaked paper mill effluent into a wooded area near Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia several weeks ago has been repaired. (Kathy Cloutier/Paper Excellence Canada)

Ryan said it seems the mill is finding itself in a "more and more difficult situation" as the closure date for Boat Harbour looms.

"It actually feels to me like they were just floating a balloon here," he said of the Plan B proposal.

"I don't know if any level of thought, or certainly not planning or assessment of the proposed pipe, would have been done. I think it's almost — 'What about this?'"

Mill officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The mayor said the town took a "strong stance" with respect to the fishery, asking for federal oversight of the plan and "no harm to the fishery" even before Plan B was made public. Concerns about protecting source water create another issue, he said.

"It will present significant opposition and I'm guessing that's going to be another obstacle for Northern Pulp to overcome."

Premier Stephen McNeil has said the company that owns the mill, Paper Excellence, has had plenty of notice to prepare for the Boat Harbour closure date and he has no intention of revisiting the legislation unless officials with Pictou Landing First Nation tell him otherwise. People in that community, including Chief Andrea Paul, have expressed no support for any of the mill's plans to date.

Meanwhile, fishermen in the Pictou area started a blockade on Monday, pledging to prevent an independent survey boat and crew contracted by the mill from gathering data to be used as part of its proposal. The mill has yet to submit its application to the province for an environmental assessment.

The matter has created tense times in the community, with strong views on either side of the issue when it comes to the mill's plan for effluent treatment and its future in the community.

Ryan said council knows there would be a financial consequence of losing the mill — "at least initially" — and he's aware of the potential implications for the forestry industry. Within the town, however, there is "some fatigue" for the mill, he said.

Trying to be optimistic

"We have the air quality issues from time to time here and now, when they talk about an important industry — that being the fishery — that adds to that concern. So there's a certain amount of fatigue in the town."

Despite the concerns and the tensions, Ryan said he tries to remain optimistic a solution can be found that satisfies everyone.

"There are a lot of lives that will be affected by whatever happens in this particular situation, so I'm hopeful that there's a solution where we can protect both jobs and the environment."

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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