top of page

First Nation, fishermen distrust Northern Pulp treatment plan

Risk and trust.

There’s too much risk and not nearly enough trust to bring Northern Pulp’s plan for a new wastewater treatment facility to fruition, according to Andrea Paul, the chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation, and scores of fishermen and residents in Pictou County.

“I know that they keep saying they are meeting the regulations,” Paul said of the proposed treatment facility which includes a pipe that will extend into the Northumberland Strait to discharge treated effluent from the kraft mill process.

“I see what’s in Boat Harbour, the process in Boat Harbour, so when they are explaining this system it is hard for me to visualize it when the only truth I know is what I’ve seen.”

What Paul and the nearly 500 people who live on the Pictou Landing reserve have seen over the past 50 years is a treatment plant that has dumped hundreds of millions of litres of toxic effluent daily into Boat Harbour. The province has pledged to shut down the Boat Harbour plant by 2020 and begin remediation of the 140-hectare lagoon.

The pulp mill at Abercrombie Point will be required to have a new treatment facility ready for operation by that 2020 deadline.

“What I want to see is a process that maintains the integrity of the environment,” Paul said, summing up an impassioned address she had delivered earlier this week at one of three meetings at which Northern Pulp unveiled the design plan for the new treatment facility.

“Because of what we’ve gone through here in Boat Harbour, there is a huge amount of fear about how this is going to impact our fisheries.”

Concerned Northumberland Strait fishermen met with the company on Monday and two public consultations were held on Tuesday and Wednesday. A 26-page handout and accompanying slides that were presented at all three meetings included a representation of four small bottles of treated mill effluent. The first, dark and murky, was labelled 1970s. The second was still dirty but clearer and supposedly came from the 1990s. A 2017 bottle was more diluted and a projected 2020 bottle was clear.

“That really bothered me,” Paul said, adding that the clear water is exactly what her people were promised in 1967 when the Boat Harbour plant was opened.

“And the future was clear. That’s exactly what our people were told back then. Everything would be great. To use that kind of imagery again, I felt it was rude. It was unsettling.

“Here we go again.”

Speaking on behalf of the Northumberland Fisheries Association, lobster fisherman Allan MacCarthy said the Monday meeting did not offer any answers.

“It was a complete embarrassment to Northern Pulp, KHS Consulting, Dillon Consulting, their lawyers, engineers and spin doctors,” MacCarthy said.

“We were two hours asking questions and we didn’t get one answer. There was no science involved with their answers.”

KHS provided Northern Pulp with a comprehensive engineering study on the construction of a new treatment facility and Dillon Consulting came up with a facility design.

“The expert from KHS admitted that they didn’t do a lobster larvae study,” MacCarthy said. “That’s the foundation of our industry.

“Do you think we can trust them (Northern Pulp) or the Department of Environment with risk management? The science they were using is from 2007. When you are dealing with science, a year is like an eternity. . . . They are asking the lobster industry, the biggest exporter in Nova Scotia, a billion-dollar industry in Nova Scotia, they are asking us to risk it. They told us in 1967 that Boat Harbour would be OK. They are asking us 51 years later to trust them again.”

Kathy Cloutier, communications director for Northern Pulp, said the three sessions this week were not intended to provide all the answers.

“One of the things that people came looking for was that we would have all the answers,” Cloutier said of the two public panel-board open houses that she estimated attracted nearly 1,000 people.

“Really, the stage that we are in now is gathering questions,” Cloutier said of unveiling a proposed design and the science that has formed the design.

“It is now recording what their questions specifically are, whether it’s regarding a bird species, fish species or what exactly will the treatment facility look like. Now that this first phase is over, we will go away and compile the answers and we will be back, I believe at the end of February or the first of March. We will come back and say here is what we heard in terms of your questions and here are your answers as to how we are going to mitigate or provide better comfort for your concerns.”

Then, she said, the company will sometime next summer present an environmental assessment study and document to the provincial environment department. That document will include everything recorded in stakeholder engagements and public consultations.

“If we can’t answer questions, that’s going to be a hindrance to the project and that is something we don’t want, so certainly due diligence will be done to see that all questions are addressed.”

Corinne MacKeil, the wife of a lobster fisherman who operates Pictou Fishing Supplies, is not convinced.

“Absolutely nothing,” MacKeil said when asked if she heard anything during two meetings that allayed her fears for the fishery.

“The studies are not done, the science is not there yet,” she said. “I was speaking with (technical manager) Terri Fraser of Northern Pulp and I said it can’t be minimal risk, we need zero risk. Her answer was there is risk in everything we do. ‘You guys took a risk when you got in your car and drove here.’ No, that’s not comparable.”

MacCarthy said the fishery is “our industry.”

“We didn’t start this fight but we categorically state that there will be no pipe in the Northumberland Strait.”

bottom of page