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Environment minister has homework to do on Northern Pulp: group

A Pictou County group says a letter from Environment Minister Iain Rankin to a concerned citizen shows that the minister has more homework to do.

According to the Friends of Northumberland Strait group, the minister replied to a citizen who had voiced concerns about an effluent pipe from a proposed Northern Pulp wastewater treatment plant extending into the Northumberland Strait by writing: “I am sure you are aware that effluent from the pulp mill has been treated by the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility and then discharged into the Northumberland Strait for the last 50 years.”

In a letter to the minister dated March 2, Jill Graham-Scanlan, on behalf of the Friends group, said Rankin’s response is akin to someone telling their doctor about avoiding cancer despite a 20-year smoking habit and having the doctor reply, “Well then, I guess there is no harm if you keep on smoking.”

Graham-Scanlan and her group included an effluent backgrounder in the package sent along to the minister, pointing out specific differences in the proposed new facility and the old one that has been contaminating Boat Harbour for the past half-century.

“In the present system, untreated effluent is piped from the mill to the north settling ponds at Boat Harbour, where it remains for 12 hours for primary treatment,” the backgrounder reads. “It then moves to an aerated stabilization basin where effluent is placed in contact with micro-organisms. The effluent remains there for eight days for secondary treatment.

“Treated effluent remains in the (Boat Harbour) lagoon for an additional 20 to 30 days.”

Graham-Scanlan said the effluent now has 28 to 38 days to settle into Boat Harbour, “where the temperature is going to change and there is going to be some settling going on and where there is other opportunities for that effluent to become less harmful by the time it is released into the estuary.”

Grham-Scanlan said in studies the group quotes it appears that the effluent is currently hugging the shoreline and it is not going out into the deeper waters of the strait.

“That’s a huge difference in what they are proposing now, where it will be piped into the deep waters of the Northumberland Strait. It will be warm, hot, it will be continual.”

A government agreement with the Pictou Landing First Nation dictates that the current treatment plant be shut down by January 2020. Northern Pulp, then, has to have its new plant, to be built on company property, up and running by that time.

“The federal government recognizes that current pulp mill effluent regulations are not enough to protect marine life,” she said. “We understand that they are in the process right now, as of last fall, to update those regulations so that they will be more stringent.”

Nothern Pulp, in the meantime, hopes to have an application for an environmental assessment forwarded to the provincial Environment Department by late spring.

Graham-Scanlan wonders if that timeline will allow for any more study.

“Everyone is looking for the science. Where’s the science? There is no science. All that Northern Pulp has provided in the way of science is the receiving water study, which is computerized modelling. . . . Is that science or is that engineering? They haven’t done any lobster larvae study or the effects on rock crab or any other marine life that we are aware of. We question if they have the time to complete those before their end of spring, beginning of summer deadline that they are going to be applying for their environmental assessment.”

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