Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp withdraws environmental assessment application for controversial project

Officials with the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County have officially withdrawn the company's application for an environmental assessment review of a controversial effluent treatment facility.

Company says it plans to submit a new plan that addresses community concerns

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., shut down at the end of January 2020 when it failed to get approval for its proposal effluent treatment replacement facility. (Robert Short/CBC)

Officials with the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County have officially withdrawn the company's application for an environmental assessment review of a controversial effluent treatment facility.

The company made the announcement in a news release Wednesday. The province confirmed to CBC News that the application was withdrawn.

"The withdrawal of the environmental assessment registration puts an end to previous plans and approaches and is an important step toward the future of the mill and rebuilding relationships with local residents, special interest groups, and First Nations," Graham Kissack, a vice-president with the company, said in a news release.

Those efforts will not be easy.

Since the mill failed to get an extension to continue using Boat Harbour as its effluent treatment site, causing the mill to shut down in 2020, there has been little contact between the company and officials with the nearby Pictou Landing First Nation.

Lack of community trust

Chief Andrea Paul has previously said there would be nothing to discuss as long as the company continued with its attempts to get approval for the project that would have seen effluent treated on the mill property before being piped to and disbursed in the Northumberland Strait.

Along with Pictou Landing, fishing groups expressed concern about the proposal as well as officials with the town of Pictou, because the pipeline would have crossed its watershed. All of them have also accused the company of acting in bad faith in the past and failing to heed community concerns.

A February report from an environmental liaison committee established in the wake of the mill closure said the company needs to do a better job building community relationships. That report also recommended the withdrawal of the environmental assessment review application and an application for a judicial review on government decisions on the file.

The company has not said what Wednesday's announcement means for the judicial review effort, however Environment Minister Keith Irving confirmed to reporters on Thursday that Northern Pulp informed the province that it would be ending that effort, too.

Plans to submit a new project

In the news release, Kissack said community input would inform future steps by the company, which include registering plans for a new effluent treatment facility with the provincial Environment Department sometime this month. Premier Iain Rankin has previously said he's not sure if the timelines the company is considering for that project are realistic.

"We are committed to doing things differently," said Kissack.

He pledged the company would be modernizing its approach to forestry practices, addressing odour, air and water emissions.

The company is also promising a public information dashboard that would display live environmental data.

Northern Pulp is in bankruptcy protection as the company attempts to reorganize its affairs with the goal of restarting the mill.

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