Indigenous

Effluent pipe leak renews opposition to Northern Pulp plan for waste pipeline to Northumberland Strait

A coalition of First Nations officials and fishermen say they are standing firm in their opposition to a paper mill's plan to pump waste water into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence after a leak was discovered Sunday in one of the mill's underground effluent pipes.

Pictou Landing First Nation councillor says leak's discovery doesn't inspire confidence

The underground pipe that leaked paper mill effluent into a wooded area near Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia has been repaired, said a spokesperson for Northern Pulp/Paper Excellence Canada. (Kathy Cloutier/Paper Excellence Canada)

A coalition of First Nations officials and fishermen say they are standing firm in their opposition to a paper mill's plan to pump waste water into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence after a leak was discovered Sunday in one of the mill's underground effluent pipes.

A Pictou, N.S., resident discovered the leak the day before Northern Pulp presented a new proposal to representatives from Pictou Landing First Nation and fishermen's associations from NS, PEI and NB for a pipeline to pump treated waste water from the mill into the Northumberland Strait four kilometres offshore.

"I think it's an awful idea," said fisherman and Pictou Landing First Nation councillor Derek Francis. 

"The pipe broke on the Pictou Landing side and they didn't even know about it until a citizen found it. How in the hell are they going to keep track of 10 kilometres of pipe?" 

Francis said even if the leak hadn't happened, he'd still oppose Northern Pulp's latest plan since it still results in dumping effluent into the ocean. 

"The place ... where they're planning on having the outfall of the effluent is right on our fishing ground. It's lobster fishing ground, herring fishing ground, mackerel and rock crab. Once they destroy it, we have nothing."

The pipeline would run overland from the mill along the causeway between Pictou Landing and the town of Pictou, then go underground near Caribou before reaching the strait.

Boats from all three Maritime provinces joined a July rally on the water against Northern Pulp's plan.

In 2015, the Nova Scotia government promised to close and clean up the mill's current, open air effluent treatment process at Boat Harbour by January 2020 via the Boat Harbour Act. The 140-hectare lagoon is said to be one of Nova Scotia's most chemically contaminated areas caused by decades of pulp mill sediment buildup. 

If Northern Pulp doesn't find a way to deal with its waste by 2020, the mill could shut down.

Francis said he doesn't like the idea of locals losing their jobs if the mill is forced to shut down, but that he doesn't know of another option to safely deal with the waste water. He said it shouldn't be up to the communities to figure that out.

"[Northern Pulp will] be the ones responsible if the mill closes down," he said.

"I see other mills running [that are] cleaner than our mill. It's up to them to come up with another plan to reuse the water, to do something other than dumping effluent into our waters." 

Boats join a July rally on the water against Northern Pulp's plan to put an effluent pipe into the Northumberland Strait. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

Next steps unclear

A news release issued Monday by the coalition stated that Northern Pulp had asked local fishermen to act on an advisory committee for the new plan. 

"No amount of community advice will change the fact this proposal will harm the strait," said Bobby Jenkins, president of the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association, in the statement. 

"Our working group has been advocating since the start for a win-win solution but there seems to be no interest by Northern Pulp to look at other options."

In an email statement to CBC News, Kathy Cloutier, director of corporate communications for Paper Excellence Canada, said the effluent flow was stopped soon after the leak was discovered and the pipe has since been repaired. 

"The cause has yet to be determined as has the volume," the statement read.

"We are waiting on consultants' recommendations as thus far all guidance has been steered toward remediation and getting the effluent that did leak to the treatment plant. Northern Pulp arranged for a third-party environmental consultant to be on site in the afternoon for assessment and development of a path forward plan."

Nova Scotia's Department of Environment confirmed that an investigation into the leak and subsequent impact is underway. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nic Meloney

Videojournalist

Nic Meloney is a mixed heritage Wolastoqi video journalist raised on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia/Mi'kma'ki. Email him at nic.meloney@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @nicmeloney.

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