PEI

Ottawa will not commit to federal assessment of Northern Pulp plan

There have been calls from fishermen and First Nations in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick for a federal assessment on Northern Pulp’s plan to pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

'We’re still evaluating whether a federal assessment is necessary'

'Let's be clear, right now there is a provincial assessment and we play a significant role in that assessment,' says Catherine McKenna, federal minister responsible for environment and climate change. (Mitch Cormier/CBC)

The federal government is not committing to an environmental assessment of Northern Pulp's plans to pump treated effluent from their plant into the Northumberland Strait.

"We're still evaluating whether a federal assessment is necessary," Catherine McKenna, federal minister responsible for environment and climate change told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

There have been calls from fishermen and First Nations in Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and New Brunswick for a federal assessment on Northern Pulp's plan to pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

The King government is also calling for Ottawa to show strong leadership on the issue.

McKenna said she has received those letters from parties worried about effluent potentially being pumped into the Northumberland Strait.

"Let's be clear, right now there is a provincial assessment and we play a significant role in that assessment," McKenna said.

Feds expressing concerns

McKenna said the federal government has "expressed concerns" from a number of departments including environment and climate change, fisheries and oceans, health and transport.

"There is a whole regulatory process if this project goes ahead in relation to fisheries and oceans, the impact of fish and fish habitat," she said.

Part of the seabed is owned by the federal government, McKenna said, and the effluent would also be looked at by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

"We are paying close attention, we know there are a lot of concerns," she said.

Northern Pulp's waste treatment plant at Boat Harbour is scheduled to close in January 2020, as laid out in provincial legislation passed by the Liberals in April 2015.

The Boat Harbour treatment facility is owned by the provincial government, which is on the hook for the cleanup once the facility closes. The cost is forecast at $217 million.

Ottawa 'taking this project very seriously'

While the federal government is doing an assessment of the cleanup, they are not doing an assessment of the new plant proposed by Northern Pulp at this time, but McKenna maintains the federal government is "directly involved."

There are 240 jobs at the mill and many groups critical of Northern Pulp's plan have said that puts the Nova Scotia government in a position of competing interests.

"There is always competing interests, but our focus is, really, what is the environmental impact. I mean that is the purpose of an environmental assessment and the provincial assessment," she said.

The federal government has also called on the province to make sure they properly consult with concerned groups including with Indigenous people, McKenna said.

"We are certainly taking this project very seriously, there is a history with the company there and we understand the concerns we absolutely need to protect fish and fish habitat."

McKenna said she has met with Indigenous people who have previously suffered environmental impacts and fishermen worried about the fishery being impacted if effluent flows into the Northumberland Strait.

"We absolutely need to protect fish and fish habitat and so that's what we are doing. When we make a decision it will be announced."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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