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N.S. pays millions for Northern Pulp’s treatment facility design

The province is paying for at least part of the design of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility.

Tucked into the supplementary information of the Public Accounts document is a grant of $6,001,238.13 to Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

It’s for designing the facility that another arm of the provincial government will conduct an environmental assessment on.

Ronnie Heighton thinks there’s a problem with that.

“It’s a direct conflict of interest,” said the River John fisherman and spokesperson for the Northumberland Fisherman’s Association.

“How can a regulator and financer be trusted to do their own environmental assessment?”

Neither the provincial government nor Prime Minister Justin Trudeau think there’s a problem with that.

Both McNeil and Trudeau have maintained that the province will do the environmental assessment.

The province never issued a press release about funding the design.

After it was discovered by the Friends of the Northumberland Strait, a group opposed to Northern Pulp’s plan to pump treated effluent into the body of water, The Chronicle Herald contacted the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.

“The contribution allows negotiations with Northern Pulp to continue and will be credited towards any future agreement,” said spokeswoman Marla MacInnis.

“This cost is part of a larger discussion with Northern Pulp which is yet to be concluded.”

That larger discussion is who pays to build the replacement for Boat Harbor.

A 1995 indemnity agreement and lease renewed in 2002 by premier John Hamm’s government — Hamm is now chair of Northern Pulp’s board of directors — puts the taxpayer on the hook for cleaning up boat harbor and providing a treatment facility for the mill’s effluent until at least 2030.

While the province isn’t saying how much a replacement will cost, a 2015 letter by Terri Fraser, technical manager at Northern Pulp, to then Environment minister Randy Delorey warned a new facility would cost over $100 million.

“We expect taxpayers to be on the hook for half a billion by the time this is all finished,” said Jill Graham-Scanlan, a Pictou lawyer and spokeswoman for Friends of the Northumberland Strait.

“We are at a loss to understand why the public and the fishermen are not considered stakeholders in this game of chicken. It’s our money being used to pay for this project.”

She takes the money for design work as a sign the province will be on the hook for the entire construction cost of the new effluent treatment facility.

MacInnis said it was just to keep the project moving to meet the January 31 deadline for the closure of the existing facility mandated by the Boat Harbour Act passed by the legislature in 2015 to get the Pictou Landing First Nation to lift a blockade of Northern Pulp.

“Detailed engineering was one of the critical items required to build a potential replacement facility in time to meet the closure deadline of January, 2020 for the existing facility,” said MacInnis.

“This step was required to stay within that timeline and would be reviewed as part of the Environmental Assessment process.”

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