Nova Scotia

Silt runoff from big Nova Scotia sawmill under investigation

The provincial Environment Department is responding to a complaint about silt in the Medway River.

Provincial Environment Department responding to complaint about silt in Medway River

A local fishing guide says the Medway River is chronically silty due to runoff from a nearby lumber mill. (Submitted by Paul Connolly)

Bangs Falls, N.S., resident Paul Connolly dips his hand into the Medway River and it disappears into the grey, silty water pouring in from the Freeman Lumber Mill property just upstream.

"The sawmill is not going away. It has to stay. It's an employer in Queens County, but it's having such an adverse effect on our river," says Connolly, a local fishing guide fed up with chronic siltation from the mill.

He says rains of five centimetres or more result in a mud slick of siltation and whatever else is in the mill yard, which stays in the river for up to 16 hours. 

The latest episode occurred Tuesday during torrential rains in southern Nova Scotia.

Connolly complained to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment.

"I want the department to enforce the law. Nobody should be getting a break from pollution and causing havoc in our river systems," Connolly tells CBC News.

Department, company responding

Two years ago, the province ordered Freeman Lumber to come up with a plan to divert water around its facility at Greenfield.

Environment Minister Iain Rankin said the project is well advanced but final steps to activate machinery have been paused — at the request of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans — until June, when water levels subside.

Grey silt water pours in from the Freeman Lumber Mill property upstream. (Submitted by Paul Connolly)

"Siltation is an issue, we recognize that, and that relates to the directive we've given," Rankin said.

"The company has been investing significant capital in installing systems to control that. This work is ongoing. We received that complaint and we will address that immediately," he said.

Stream reconstruction

Freeman Lumber vice-president Richard Freeman said the company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years on siltation control "with mixed results."

"A small brook which overwhelms sedimentation control during severe storms has been very challenging," he said in an emailed response to CBC News.

The company has been given a permit to divert the brook around the mill site under the supervision of a stream reconstruction expert.

"The reconstructed brook will be fully commissioned this summer. Other siltation control measures are being implemented," Freeman said.

Freeman Lumber is no stranger to adversity, having survived a flood, fire and hurricane.

The family-owned business has operated a mill in Greenfield since 1830. Today it is one of the major employers in western Nova Scotia, with a workforce of 120.