Tensions around Northern Pulp have local MP 'deeply concerned'

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser says he’s 'deeply concerned' about what could happen in his riding as tensions continue to escalate around the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County.

Sean Fraser says feds will decide whether to review treatment plant plan once proposal is filed

A pending proposal for a new treatment facility for the Northern Pulp mill is drawing a stark divide within communities in Pictou County. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser says he's "deeply concerned" about what could happen in his riding as tensions continue to escalate around the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County, N.S.

Last week, fishermen from the community confronted a survey boat contracted by the mill to gather data. Eventually the boat returned to shore. Fishermen have said they'd be monitoring the boat and prevent it from doing work.

As the pulp mill prepares to submit its proposal to the Nova Scotia government for a new effluent treatment facility, one that would see treated wastewater find its way into the Northumberland Strait, divisions have deepened in the area as people pick sides between supporting the mill, its future and the corresponding jobs, and supporting the fishermen, Pictou Landing First Nation, the environment and tourism.

Fraser said he gets calls to his office on a "near daily basis" from people on both sides of the issue.

Central Nova MP Sean Fraser says he's concerned about tensions in Pictou County related to Northern Pulp and he's calling on cooler heads to prevail. (CBC)

"I've spoken to people who have said, 'You know, I'm one step away from thinking about carrying the rifle onboard when I go out next time,'" Fraser said during an interview Monday with CBC's The Current.

"Things have reached a fever pitch at home."

The Liberal MP said there are cool heads in each camp and he called on clear and calm thinking to prevail in the debate.

"I think it's essential that we all resolve this through conversation and through scientific review."

Scientific review is at the heart of the debate for many people opposed to the mill's plans. While the proposal for the new effluent treatment plant, which would replace the Boat Harbour treatment lagoon, is to be submitted to and reviewed by the provincial government, many have called on the federal government to do an assessment of its own.

Fraser, who is also the parliamentary secretary to federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, said until the mill's proposal is submitted, the federal government doesn't have the ability to conduct an assessment.

A threshold to meet for support

He said a decision on whether to do so will be made very quickly after the plan is filed.

Fraser said he's grown up in a generation where "the environment informed everything about everything," and to overcome concerns "you have to satisfy the public and the community that you can move forward with projects that will actually respect and protect the environment before you can have a conversation about jobs."

Once that threshold is crossed and the public is satisfied, Fraser said he would be "the biggest supporter" of economic development projects.

Premier stands by closure timeline

Premier Stephen McNeil said people need to allow the regulatory process to play out and "let the science stand."

"While I understand people's passion and their concerns, which is all legitimate … it needs to be done in a peaceful way," he told CBC Nova Scotia in a telephone interview.

Boat Harbour is scheduled to be closed in January 2020 as per legislation McNeil's government passed during its first mandate. With that deadline a little more than a year away and the mill still not having submitted its new treatment facility proposal for an environmental assessment, it would seem time is getting tight. McNeil said he has concerns about how close that deadline is, but said the company is making business decisions based on what's in its best interest.

Premier Stephen McNeil says he intends to stick by the January 2020 closure date for Boat Harbour, which his government enshrined in legislation during its first mandate. (Robert Short/CBC News)

"Of course we're concerned the impact this has — not just on the mill but on the forestry sector across the province — but we've given them plenty of notice about the timelines that we have there, and those timelines we look forward to them meeting."

McNeil said he has no plan to revisit the 2020 closure date after making a commitment to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation unless the people there tell him otherwise.

"It's an arrangement and agreement that I have made with them and one that I will hold unless they otherwise change their mind, but I fully expect the company to comply with the timeline."

About the Author

Michael Gorman

Reporter

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia who covers Province House, rural communities, and everything in between. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

With files from The Current