Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp submits plans to replace notorious Boat Harbour facility

Northern Pulp has qualified for a faster environmental assessment for the new waste water treatment facility it proposes to build on property adjacent to its Pictou County, N.S., paper mill.

Public will have 30 days to comment once project is registered for environmental assessment

Northern Pulp must secure environmental approvals and build a new waste water treatment plant by January 2020. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Northern Pulp has qualified for a faster environmental assessment for the new waste water treatment facility it proposes to build on property adjacent to its Pictou County, N.S., paper mill.

The design study would see mill waste water — up to 75,000 cubic metres daily — handled through an activated sludge treatment system. The effluent would be aerated and settled in a large tank on mill property.

The treated effluent would then be sent to a new submerged marine outflow for discharge into the Northumberland Strait.

Mill manager Bruce Chapman said the company hired a consultant to do an assessment of the receiving waters.

"They looked at several spots both in Pictou Harbour and the Northumberland Strait and the site right now is outside of the Pictou Harbour and into the Strait," he said, declining to reveal the cost of the project.

2020 deadline approaching

Northern Pulp must secure environmental approvals and build the new treatment plant by January 2020.

That is the provincial government deadline to close the mill's current treatment facility at Boat Harbour, located next to the Pictou Landing First Nation.

"Obviously we want this to go as quickly as possible because the 2020 deadline is still a challenge," said Chapman.

For 50 years, mill waste water — from several owners — has been piped under the East River into the Boat Harbour lagoon, where it is aerated in settling ponds before being released about a week later into the Northumberland Strait.

Province opted for faster review

The province has decided the new effluent treatment facility will be subject to a Class 1 environmental assessment, which gives the public 30 days to comment once the project is formally registered. That has not yet happened.

The other option was a Class 2 assessment, which can take up up to 275 days, including a maximum public comment period of 110 days.

For 50 years mill waste water — from several owners — has been piped under the East River into the Boat Harbour lagoon. The Pictou Landing First Nation has identified this as part of the affected area. (Pictou Landing First Nation)

Nova Scotia Environment Minister Iain Rankin said the faster assessment was automatic in this case.

"It was a staff-level decision, actually. The regulations clearly stipulate that where there is a modification to an existing undertaking it would be a Class 1," he said.

Public can comment for 1 month

Rankin and Northern Pulp insist the shorter assessment will be no less rigorous.

"We have a range of options, whether we ask for more information or we can approve it with conditions," Rankin said. "So we'll take that very seriously as well as the 30-day period where there will be public comments."

Chapman said both Class 1 and Class 2 reviews require "extensive public consultations, a complete review of the science and an assessment of how the project may or may not impact the environment." 

Lease expires in 2030

Nova Scotia owns the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility and leases it to Northern Pulp under a lease agreement that expires in 2030.

Nova Scotia taxpayers are on the hook for the cleanup — currently estimated at $133-million — because in 1995 the province indemnified a previous owner for all liabilities associated with the treatment site.

The lease agreement between the province and Northern Pulp expires in 2030. (CBC)

The Liberal government passed the Boat Harbour Act in 2015, which orders the 2020 closure of the current treatment facility. The act expressly states the law is not a repudiation of its lease with Northern Pulp.

The province and Northern Pulp have not agreed on who owns and pays for the new facility.

"Our position is that we believe the value of the lease should be honoured," said Chapman. "The original lease was till 2030."

Who pays part of negotiations 

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal contributed $300,000 towards a design and cost study carried out by the engineering firm KSH.

"Details around who owns and operates the effluent treatment facility, and who pays for it, are all part of negotiations which have yet to occur," said department spokesperson Brian Taylor in an emailed response to CBC News questions. 

"The engineering and design processes should help inform those negotiations," he said.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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