Nova Scotia

Province urged to reject Northern Pulp's controversial pipe proposal

Groups representing fishermen, First Nations and others in the Pictou, N.S., area called on the provincial government Tuesday to reject a controversial proposal to pipe treated pulp mill effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Company's environmental assessment focus report flawed, groups argue

The Northern Pulp mill at Abercrombie Point, N.S. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Groups representing fishermen, First Nations and others in the Pictou, N.S., area called on the provincial government Tuesday to reject a controversial proposal to pipe treated pulp mill effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

At a news conference in the town, group spokespersons argued Northern Pulp has not made the case to justify a new waste-treatment facility for the aging pulp mill at Abercrombie Point, Pictou County.

"I don't think they put much attention to detail about fishing activity. A lot of it's just wrong," said Colton Cameron, a fisherman from Caribou, the nearest port to the proposed outfall.

Cameron said an environmental assessment focus report submitted by Northern Pulp to the province misrepresents and minimizes the amount of fishing activity along the pipeline route and at the diffuser point, four kilometres from shore, where the company wants to discharge tens of millions of litres a day of treated wastewater effluent into the strait.

"The reality is that is prime fishing grounds and prime breeding grounds for these fish," Cameron said.

Aerators churn up toxic mill waste at Northern Pulp's current treatment facility in Boat Harbour, which has been ordered to close in January 2020. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

He and others said the mill, owned by Paper Excellence, failed to address information gaps identified by the province after it received the company's environmental assessment application earlier in the year.

The updated plan, or focus report as it is called, was submitted on Oct. 2 on orders from the Environment Department. The critics say it is still missing critical information, contains factual errors and ignores or downplays risks.

"The baselines [studies] weren't done. I can't see how they could accept this project," said Chief Andrea Paul, of Pictou Landing First Nation.

For 50 years, the band has been an unwilling neighbour of the current treatment facility at Boat Harbour, which is comprised of a series of aeration ponds and settling lagoons.

Decision by mid-December

The province has ordered the Boat Harbour facility to be closed in January 2020. 

That timeline has not budged, triggering the divisive debate within the community over the replacement facility and the mill's future.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson is expected to make a decision on the treatment plant in mid-December.

The company maintains its project will have no serious adverse environmental effects and it said Tuesday in a statement it "looks forward to a positive outcome from the Nova Scotia Environment Department's review of the focus report."

"Northern Pulp's proposed industry-leading wastewater treatment facility will significantly reduce our environmental footprint while maintaining well-paying jobs for Nova Scotia," the company said.

Company's research questioned

But opponents do not accept company claims of benign impacts. They say their own expert, Oliver Fringer of Stanford University, found the company modelling study was flawed.

"The results of the modelling study are not to be relied on. Any claims ought to be dismissed," said Jill Graham-Scanlan, of Friends of the Northumberland Strait.

The mayor of Pictou, Jim Ryan, told reporters the update does not address concerns that the effluent pipe still poses a risk to the town's drinking water supply.

Meanwhile, Paul told reporters she trusts assurances from Premier Stephen McNeil that the provincially owned Boat Harbour treatment facility will close at the end of January 2020, as required under legislation passed five years ago.

"I've talked with the premier. I know he is going to stick to his word," Paul said.

When the current facility does close, the mill, which employs 300 people directly, will be forced to cease operations.

The question then will be when, or if, it reopens.

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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