Nova Scotia

Northern Pulp says conditions imposed by province 'impossible to meet'

Northern Pulp maintains that conditions in the five-year approval will require it to build a new wastewater treatment facility for a cost of $100-million at a new location by 2020.

Mill owner says the province is breaking its own established contracts with the company

Northern Pulp estimates upgrades will cost about $90 million, not including an estimated $100 million to replace Boat Harbour. (CBC)

The owner of the Northern Pulp mill says the province's environmental conditions are "impossible to meet."  

Paper Excellence Canada, the mill's owner, also says the conditions break the province's own established contracts with the company.

CBC News obtained a copy of the 2015 conditions from the Department of the Environment. Northern Pul is appealing the conditions in the five-year approval plan and says they will require the mill to build a new $100-million wastewater treatment facility at a new location by 2020.

Among other agreements, the mill has a 30-year lease with the province to use the Boat Harbour facility near Pictou Landing for treating waste released from the pulp mill.

Immediate future

The appeal contains a veiled threat: the company could leave if the province refuses to change the new rules.

The province has until June 9 to decide.

"The cumulative cost and uncertainty associated with the approval and construction of a new effluent treatment system jeopardize the long term economic viability of the mill and is inconsistent with the agreements," states the appeal from Northern Pulp.

The company is also asking the Province for continued use of Boat Harbour until 2030, instead of 2020.  

If the province implements legislation to close Boat Harbour in 2020, as it has promised the neighbouring Pictou Landing First Nation community, Northern Pulp wants the province to "indemnify" — or cover its costs for moving the toxic wastewater to another site, thereby "rehabilitating" Boat Harbour.

The lease agreement on Boat Harbour expires in 15 years.

New conditions

The new conditions in the 2015 approval give Northern Pulp five years to reduce the wastewater it produces by 40 per cent.

The company is also being told to reduce a measure known as C.O.D.: an indicator of the amount of pulping chemicals present in wastewater, which are largely responsible for the stinky odour. The province has asked Northern Pulp to reduce C.O.D. by 77 per cent.  

Northern Pulp cites an AMEC engineering study in the approval conditions to back up its claim that, "even with significant in-mill improvements and a brand new treatment system, the mill would still exceed by more than double the C.O.D. daily limit."

The pulp company specifically describes that condition as "impossible to meet," and asks the province to drop it.

Bob Larocque, a consultant with the industry group Forest Products Canada, told CBC reducing C.O.D. is "challenging," but not impossible. Larocque said if the company can achieve the C.O.D. reduction in five years time, it would move Northern Pulp into the top 25 per cent of clean mills in the country.

The company argues that "the provisions of the approval impose conditions which are unreasonable for a mill that was built in the 1960s, to meet without requiring that a substantially new mill be built."

The new conditions in the 2015 approval give Northern Pulp five years to reduce by 40 percent the volume of wastewater it produces. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

Northern Pulp estimates those upgrades at a cost of about $90 million, not including the estimated $100 million to replace Boat Harbour.

The company says the Department of the Environment refused to consider the existing Boat Harbour lease agreement when it issued the 2015 operating approval, and that it turned down their request for a joint meeting between Northern Pulp, the Department of Environment and Internal Services. Internal Services is a government department tasked with finding a new location for the wastewater treatment facility.

In its appeal, Northern Pulp says the approval "imposes conditions that in essence seek to achieve indirectly what the province is not permitted to do directly, namely, require Northern Pulp to cease using its existing treatment facility."

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