N.S. premier says talks ongoing with Northern Pulp mill over millions in outstanding loans
The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., is viewed from Pictou, N.S., Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
HALIFAX -- Talks are ongoing regarding the repayment of millions of dollars in outstanding loans owed to the province by the mothballed Northern Pulp mill, Nova Scotia's premier said Thursday.
Stephen McNeil told reporters following a cabinet meeting that the current discussions with representatives from Northern Pulp concern things such as a repayment schedule, interest, and how the loans will be repaid.
"Those loans are owed to the people of the province and we expect them to be repaid," McNeil said. "That's what the conversation has been about -- it's never been about not repaying them."
The loans, made by previous governments, include two to the mill itself and one to an affiliated company. A spokesman from McNeil's office confirmed Thursday the outstanding total is roughly $84.9-million.
McNeil also said there are currently no talks around the province's potential liability related to the closure of the mill's Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility, which comes a little more than 10 years ahead of the scheduled end for the lease on the property.
McNeil says he believes the liability is less now that the mill is not moving ahead with a new treatment facility as a result of the government's legislated Jan. 31 deadline for the early closure of the treatment lagoons near the Pictou Landing First Nation.
"That liability in my view is very different than what it would have been if they had been continuing to operate," he said.
However, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said he believes there is still a big risk to taxpayers.
"I hope they will be able to manage the negotiations with the company better than they've managed this file to date, but I suspect this will end up in the courts," Houston said Thursday.
The majority of the approximately 230 unionized workers at the mill finished their final shifts last Friday as the company puts the facility into so-called "hibernation."
Northern Pulp opted for the move after its plan for a new treatment system that would see it pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait was rejected by the province in December.
The company has since asked for a judicial review of the environment minister's decision to require an environmental assessment report for its proposed effluent facility.
However, it's also committed to continue with the assessment process and is currently reviewing a draft terms of reference issued by the province.
Final terms will be issued to the company in April and it will then have up to two years to complete a report.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 6, 2020.