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OPINION: #NoPipe activists won’t pipe down

Fishermen Mike and Wayne Noel.


Lobster traps are out of the water now, as fishermen along the Northumberland Strait wrap up a successful season. The wharves are quieter than they were a year ago, when 200 fishing and pleasure boats and 3,500 people readied for the #NoPipe Land and Sea Rally on July 6 in Pictou Town and Harbour.

From three provinces and Pictou Landing First Nation, opposition to Northern Pulp’s proposal to discharge 60-80 million litres of treated pulp effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait was visible and strong.

Don’t be misled by the calm surface of fishing activities today. #NoPipe determination remains solid. #NoPipe flags still fly from fishing boats, and lawn signs still proclaim, “No Pulp Waste in our Waters.”

It’s been a year and a half of hard work to protect the Northumberland Strait. It’s not over yet.

One year ago, days before the Land and Sea Rally, Northern Pulp announced that its plan to discharge effluent into Pictou Harbour would not work, due to risks from ice and the presence of shipwrecks. It would need to find another route. Then the company went quiet.

Almost four months later, in October 2018, a leak from Northern Pulp’s effluent pipe was discovered by neighbours out for a walk. Not everyone realizes that Northern Pulp is required to have a system in place to immediately alert the company to a pipe leak. Why that system did not work, how much effluent leaked and what was the composition of the effluent? — all these questions remain unanswered today, nine months later.

Yet the day after the leak was discovered, Northern Pulp announced a new pipe route. The company planned to run its effluent pipe 11 kilometres overland, through the Town of Pictou’s watershed, underwater through Caribou Harbour, the busiest fishing wharf on the Nova Scotia side of the Strait, four kilometres through a scallop protected area, to discharge effluent offshore of Caribou Island.

Fishermen are as determined as ever to protect the Northumberland Strait, and we support the closure of Boat Harbour on schedule.

It’s hardly surprising that the mayor of Pictou objected, and local fishermen gathered for a floating protest across the entrance to Caribou Harbour, in opposition to survey activity for the new route.

Fast-forward to Jan. 31, 2019. As Pictou Landing First Nation held a countdown celebration, marking 365 days to the end of 53 years of pollution of their community, Northern Pulp held a press conference to announce it was submitting its project for environmental assessment, and would ask for an extension to the Boat Harbour Act for as long as needed to allow the mill to continue operating without interruption.

But the information the company submitted to the Nova Scotia Environment Department had holes big enough to drive the P.E.I. ferry through.

Our organizations, along with hundreds of other people, submitted detailed information to the Environment Department, pointing out the gaps and errors in Northern Pulp’s submission. Biologists, chemists, ecologists, pharmacists and physicians added their expertise to the local knowledge of fishers and residents, pointing to risk after risk, from the delicate ecosystem of the Strait, to the health of local residents.

The problems with Northern Pulp’s information were too big, and too public, to be ignored. The Environment Department did not approve Northern Pulp’s project, and required the company to provide more information in 19 critical areas. The missing information included things pertaining to wetlands, species at risk, migratory birds, freshwater and marine fish, effluent composition, marine water quality, ice impacts, air contaminants, impacts on human health and more.

And that is where we stand now. Northern Pulp has not yet presented a viable plan. Pulp effluent must stop flowing into Boat Harbour in seven months’ time.

Fishermen are as determined as ever to protect the Northumberland Strait, and we support the closure of Boat Harbour on schedule.

We do not believe that Northern Pulp’s plan to discharge treated effluent into the Strait can ever meet the environmental standards of not harming fish or fish habitat. Similar plans have been rejected before on environmental grounds.

As lobster season ends, we switch out our gear and get ready to fish for other species in the waters of the Strait — rock crab, scallops, mackerel, herring, tuna. We wait and we watch — ready to ensure there will be no pipe in the Northumberland Strait.

Ronnie Heighton of River John is president, Northumberland Fishermen’s Association.

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