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New Northern Pulp effluent plan worries P.E.I. premier

Count the premier of Prince Edward Island among the voices of those concerned about a Northern Pulp plan to discharge treated pulp mill effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

Premier Wade MacLauchlan wrote a letter Tuesday to federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and to Stephen McNeil, his fellow Liberal premier in Nova Scotia, to express his concerns.

“I share the concerns of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island fishers that an outflow pipe placed into the Northumberland Strait could have unintended consequences for commercial fishery and aquaculture industries,” MacLauchlan wrote in a letter attached to a news release.

The premier’s letter described the Northumberland Strait as one of the more sensitive areas within the Gulf of St. Lawrence with unique tidal and circulation patterns.

“An effluent pipe that would allow as much as 75,000 cubic metres of fresh, warm water to be directed daily into the Northumberland Strait is not a project that our government will support as proposed.”

The mill currently pushes wastewater from the pulp process to a treatment facility at Boat Harbour, near the Pictou Landing First Nation. The contentious Boat Harbour facility is to cease operation as of January 2020, by which time a new treatment facility is to be constructed on mill property, including the proposed outflow pipe extending into the strait.

Kathy Cloutier, communications director of Paper Excellence Canada, the company that owns the Abercrombie Point mill, said in an email that the company expects the replacement project to be formally registered in late spring or early summer this year.

“Prior to this as pre-registration consultation, Northern Pulp is committed to working with government, our neighbouring communities, as well as the province of Prince Edward Island throughout this process to share information and address concerns,” Cloutier said.

MacLauchlan said in his letter that he understands a Level 1 environmental assessment will be conducted this summer.

“I ask that a more comprehensive assessment take place and that the impact on Island fisheries is taken into consideration as part of this work.”

Cloutier said Nova Scotia has a regulatory system in place to ensure that projects and activities proceed in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“We are meeting the regulatory requirements set out by government through the Nova Scotia Department of Environment.”

Actually, she said, the company is going beyond the requirements determined by the regulator.

“Typical Class 1 pre-project registration requires the proponent to hold one public information session to present the project,” Cloutier said. “Northern Pulp has added a step that is found in Class 2 pre-project registration, which is to return to the public with another session that responds to questions and comments.”

She said the company expects the second public consultation will be held toward the end of March.

“This is a significant additional step not required,” Cloutier said. “However, to ensure transparency and offer increased engagement, it is one that we as a company have decided to take.”

MacLauchlan said that a shared commitment to both the environment and the jobs and economic impact associated with the fishery should prevail, generating a decision based on sound science and the input of all partners.

“I am confident that we all agree that any development that risks the habitat and reproductive cycle of species such as lobster, or that threatens the livelihood of thousands of families dependent on the fisheries in the Northumberland Strait cannot proceed.”

There was no response from McNeil’s office, aside from reiterating that Environment Minister Iain Rankin is managing the file.

Cloutier said the company takes the responsibility of developing a new facility very seriously.

“Effluent has been discharged into the Northumberland Strait for 50 years,” she said. “Effluent of today is not the same as decades ago, as significant improvements have been made over the years.”

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