Transportation minister says view on proposed effluent pipeline hasn't changed
Northern Pulp wants to run pipeline for treated effluent along route of Highway 106
Transportation Minister Lloyd Hines says his department's opinion has not changed on where the proposed pipeline for a new effluent treatment facility for the Northern Pulp mill should go.
When then-environment minister Margaret Miller ruled in March that the company's proposal lacked sufficient information for her to make a decision, one of the concerns raised was that the pipeline would travel alongside Highway 106.
At the time, the province's chief engineer, Peter Hackett, said his department did not want the pipeline along the 100-series highway, preferring instead a route that would run along secondary roads.
Hackett said the department tries to keep utilities out of the right of way for controlled-access highways so any required maintenance work doesn't interfere with traffic flow.
"It's not just the shoulder of the road, it's the entire right of way," Hackett said at the time.
Even with those concerns, however, the company is not planning to make dramatic changes to the route. It would go from the mill's property at Abercombie Point, run along the Pictou causeway and on along Highway 106 before ultimately discharging treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait at a location near Caribou.
Kathy Cloutier, spokesperson for mill owner Paper Excellence Canada, confirmed survey and geotechnical work continues along the Highway 106 corridor for the land-based portion of the pipeline route, but away from the road's shoulder.
When Miller issued her decision in March, she ordered a focus report from the company to answer outstanding questions and provide information the minister deemed lacking in the original submission. Cloutier said the plan remains to file that final report by the end of September.
Terms and references for the report included a call for a "re-alignment route for the effluent pipeline, given Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal does not permit the pipeline to be placed in the shoulder of Highway 106."
On Thursday, Hines told reporters in Halifax that his department has provided no assurances to mill officials that it would entertain a proposed pipeline route alongside Highway 106. The department doesn't have a position about whether or not a pipeline should run alongside the Pictou causeway, he said.
Pipeline plan concerns
Jill Graham-Scanlan, president of the group Friends of the Northumberland Strait, said she and others remain concerned about the proposed route because it would cross the Town of Pictou's watershed, the town's drinking water supply, and wetland areas. Being connected to the causeway also causes them concern, she said.
But, ultimately, any route would provide a way for a pipe to discharge treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait and that's something Graham-Scanlan's group and others, such as fishermen and members of Pictou Landing First Nation, firmly oppose.
Given that Transportation Department officials clearly illustrated a desire for the pipeline to be moved away from Highway 106, Graham-Scanlan wondered why the company would continue with what is essentially the same route that wasn't originally approved.
"It really makes us wonder whether Northern Pulp is trying to submit a plan that is designed to be rejected and then blame the government for this, or blame the fishermen or blame Pictou Landing First Nation," she said.
Boat Harbour Act looms
Regardless of the route proposed for the pipeline, time is ticking for the company to get an approval to begin construction and even then it might be too late.
Premier Stephen McNeil's Liberal government passed legislation in 2015 that gave the mill until Jan. 31, 2020 to come up with a new effluent treatment approach, at which point the current treatment site, Boat Harbour, would be closed.
The government is currently working on cleanup plans for Boat Harbour, a former tidal estuary, however, the company has said that without a treatment site, it will not be able to continue operating.
Although for years McNeil maintained that the closure date in the Boat Harbour Act was what it was and would not change, more recently he has said that if the company can acquire environmental approval for a new treatment facility, he would have a responsibility to look at all possibilities.