The Northern Pulp mill is seen in Abercrombie Point in 2014, with the Town of Pictou in the background. - File - The Chronicle Herald
Northern Pulp denies duplicity and assures proposed effluent treatment facility will be up to standard
Northern Pulp’s public statements about its new proposed effluent treatment plan appear to be at odds with statements made between the company’s technical manager, consultants and the province according to environmental lawyer, Jamie Simpson.
“One of the key things that jumped out to me was the inconsistencies with what they’ve been saying publicly and specifically to fishermen in the three maritime provinces,” said Simpson who obtained thousands of internal correspondences through a freedom of information request.
In an email between Northern Pulp’s technical manager and Dillon Consulting, a Toronto-based consulting firm, written on Nov. 29, 2017 the technical manager said in reference to the effluent coming from the proposed Northumberland Strait pipeline, “some say effluent quality will be worse than today because of all the polishing that is happening across the Boat Harbor basin—and they are correct to some extent.”
The “polishing” in Boat Harbor refers to the lengthy treatment process that raw effluent undergoes in Boat Harbour before being released into the Northumberland Strait. The total suspended solids (TSS) made up of wood fragments and the organic matter used in the treatment facility settle and fall to the floor of the Boat Harbour Basin.
Conceding the possibility that effluent dispersed into the strait from Northern Pulp’s proposed new pipeline could, in any way, be more harmful than what has been flowing out from Boat Harbour since 1966 appears to be contrast to what the company has been telling the public.
In a letter from Northern Pulp to the Town of Westville which Simpson obtained through the freedom of information request, Kathy Cloutier, director of corporate communications with Paper Excellence, wrote:
“Northern Pulp has been releasing treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait for five decades. …Treated effluent that will be discharged under the proposed new design will see an even greater improvement….”
Regarding the email written in 2017, Cloutier confirmed to The News that less polishing will happen under the new proposed system, but that the effect of added solids would still be well within federal pulp and paper regulations.
“The federal government through the pulp and paper effluent regulations determined that 11,500 kg per day is essentially the regulatory limit,” said Cloutier. “We operate within one-fifth of that limit.”
So, less polishing means a higher percentage of TSS. But even with that, Cloutier says that the difference in the amount of TSS in the new treatment system would still be well under the regulatory limit and have minimal impact on the ecology of the Strait.
Furthermore, she added that the 2017 email was written as part of preparation for the open house events which were held in December of that year, and that Paper Excellence was transparent about the decrease in polishing under the new plan.
Simpson said that another area that was a red-flag for him was that, despite internal recommendations for a study on the potential impact of effluent on lobster larvae, no new testing was done.
Instead the company has relied on past literature to address this issue in its environmental application.
“There will be testing planned for post-start up,” said Cloutier. “There will also be studies done before start-up to establish a base-line.”
That does not sit well with fishermen’s organizations in the maritime provinces.
“This was one of the concerns that I brought up at one of our first face-to-face meetings that we had with (Northern Pulp) and Dillon,” said Melanie Giffin with the Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association who says she asked when the company planned to conduct lobster larvae sampling and research at a meeting back in 2018. “They said that they’d do it before the proposal was submitted.”
Furthermore, Simpson points to communications between Dillon consultants and Northern Pulp recommending that more data be collected on this score.
A letter from Dillion Consulting to Northern Pulp written on Feb. 14, 2018 states:
“The level of stakeholder (commercial fishers) concern regarding lobsters necessitates the need for increased scientific understandings; a lobster study is not intended to be included in the environmental assessment; we will assess the value of a lobster study once the specialist has been contracted.”
“Northern Pulp did contract a lobster biologist, or a marine biologist” says Simpson. “He did a bit of a literature review looking back at studies done in the 1960s, but that’s the extent. He does note that there needs to be additional study done to actually know what the impact of the effluent would be on lobster larvae.”
The problem is that lobsters in the Northumberland Strait take between five and seven years before being able to reproduce. With the Boat Harbour 2020 deadline fast approaching there isn’t enough time to conduct research on long-term exposure to the effluent during this critical developmental stage.
“This is really what the environmental assessment is for,” said Cloutier. “The government will come back with what their response is to what’s being proposed, and what’s being proposed is the before and after baseline tests, and the post-startup testing.”
That still leaves a window where effluent could be entering the strait without adequate data on what its effects would be on the lobster larvae exposed to it.
The Nova Scotia department of environment told The News that it would not comment on a project that is currently going through the environmental assessment process.