N.S. pulp mill expected to miss 2020 deadline to close Boat Harbour
The Northern Pulp mill is seen in Abercrombie, N.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)
ABERCROMBIE POINT, N.S. -- A controversial pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia is facing delays with its new wastewater system, making it likely to miss the provincial deadline of January 2020 to stop using a polluted lagoon.
The Northern Pulp mill has been sending untreated effluent to a First Nation reserve for more than half a century, something the province's former environment minister called one of the worst cases of environmental racism in Canada.
Under provincial legislation, the kraft pulp mill has less than 15 months to overhaul how it processes wastewater.
Kathy Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Paper Excellence Canada, which owns the Abercrombie Point mill, says the setback is due to a delay with a pipeline.
She says the new wastewater treatment facility will meet the deadline, but that a new outfall discharge pipe will take longer.
Despite the delays, Cloutier says once the new treatment plant is operational, untreated effluent will no longer leave the mill.
"Currently (since 1967) untreated effluent travels through a pipe to the Boat Harbour Treatment Facility where it receives treatment and is then discharged as treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait," she said in an email.
"The new system will see effluent treated at the facility on mill property. No untreated effluent will flow through any pipe as is the case today."
The new system is slated to replace Boat Harbour, a toxic wastewater lagoon on the edge of Pictou Landing First Nation.
The delay was met with consternation among local community groups, fishermen and an Indigenous leader, who called on the mill to close Boat Harbour on schedule.
"Our community has lived with polluted air and water, broken promises and broken pipes for over 50 years," Chief Andrea Paul of Pictou Landing First Nation said in a statement.
"Boat Harbour is closing on schedule and we expect nothing less. We have also made it clear that we oppose dumping treated pulp effluent anywhere in the Northumberland Strait."
Allan McCarthy of the Northumberland Fisherman's Association said it's not a surprise that Northern Pulp will miss the deadline.
He said it seems "wildly optimistic" to say they are only a few months behind schedule.
McCarthy, who represents more than 3,000 fishermen from across the Maritimes, suggested the delay could cause increased strain between fishermen, the government and the mill.
"If you think tensions are high now, you don't want to think about what could happen if MLAs do not honour the Boat Harbour Act," he said.
A group of Northumberland Strait fishermen have said they will block any survey boats from entering the strait. Earlier this month, Premier Stephen McNeil encouraged fishermen to end the blockade of survey boats hired to examine a route for an undersea effluent pipe.
Although the mill initially suggested the effluent would be carried by polyethelyne pipe across Pictou Harbour and released through six dispersal pipes into the ocean, it's now examining an alternate route.
Cloutier said Northern Pulp is studying a primarily land-based route with an outfall point at Caribou.
"We are taking the time required to complete studies with regard to the alternate option as initial findings show that Caribou offers improved mixing/dispersion" compared to the original route proposed, she said.
The fishermen's group questioned the new route, saying Northern Pulp does not have answers to essential questions and the required reports and tests have not been completed.
The group said the new route would travel along the Pictou causeway, through a traffic rotary, pass through two watersheds and enter the Northumberland Strait at Caribou.
"We have seen that after mistakes are made, it can take a very long time to correct them," McCarthy said.
"Harming an ecosystem has long term effects."
- By Brett Bundale in Halifax