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Counterpoint: Setting the record straight about Northern Pulp woes


Sawmill owner Robin Wilber (“McNeil could salvage forestry legacy by reviving Northern Pulp,” Aug. 29) got a number of essential points backward in his recent Opinion piece calling for a revival of Northern Pulp. In hopes of setting the record straight, I would like to address five key errors. 

1. The “Government Changed the Goalposts” argument: Let’s be clear, it was Northern Pulp that moved the goalposts, not the government. NP abandoned their first pipe route as unworkable. Their second route involves running an effluent pipe across the Pictou causeway, 10+ km through the Pictou Rotary and the Town of Pictou watershed, through wetlands, freshwater bodies, fish and migratory bird habitat. The marine portion runs four km through a marine protected area, through waters sometimes less than a metre deep, with heavy ice buildup and ice scour. It would empty into prime fishing grounds with complex tides and currents, and into a herring spawning ground. Clearly, this new route involves many more risks, requiring many more studies. Anyone who did not expect more studies was dreaming. Scientific submissions to the environmental assessment (EA) process suggest that the new route is just as unworkable as the first.

2. The “Effluent won’t Hurt the Strait” argument: Wilber claims the government hid an important study by Tony Walker. That’s hard to swallow, since the study was published months after the Minister of Environment made his decision to require Northern Pulp to provide more information.

But there is a bigger problem. Wilber completely misunderstands the important conclusions of the Walker study. Walker’s research shows that the Boat Harbour lagoon captured many highly toxic components of pulp effluent and stopped them from going into the Northumberland Strait. It was not the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility (ETF) alone, but the 350-acre lagoon that did this, and it is costing over $200 million to clean up. Northern Pulp’s new proposal includes no equivalent to the Boat Harbour lagoon. In two rounds of environmental assessment, Northern Pulp has not demonstrated that the new ETF would remove these toxins before effluent would enter the Strait. 

3. The “88 Other Mills” argument: This argument is smoke and mirrors. Northern Pulp is one of only 20-30 bleached kraft mills in Canada. Effluent from bleached kraft pulp mills is listed as a toxic substance by Environment Canada. Nowhere in Canada does a bleached kraft mill discharge 80 million litres of effluent, including four tonnes of solids, every day into waters with the shallow depths, complex tides and currents, and extensive ice buildup and ice scour (capable of destroying a buried pipe) that are found in the Caribou Harbour area, while running through a marine protected area and a community’s watershed, and discharging into a lucrative fishing area serving three provinces plus a herring spawning ground. 

4. The “Modernized Mill” argument: Wilber claims that Northern Pulp wants to re-open a modernized mill. The fact is, Northern Pulp has not submitted a plan to modernize the mill. Even oxygen delignification, a process used by many mills since the 1970s, is not part of Northern Pulp’s plan. The company declined to set a date when it would be added. 

Wilber also says that the province should welcome “a large new investment,” but we refer him to court documents in B.C. which state as a loan condition that Northern Pulp must have an agreement with the province to help fund the design and construction. 

5. Finally, Wilber claims Northern Pulp did not know what to do to pass an environmental assessment because the government was not clear. To anyone who has read the thousands of pages of EA documentation, that is laughable. NP has been asked, from day one, to provide the full chemical composition of the effluent they plan to discharge. It doesn’t get much clearer than that. Two years in, the company has still not provided that essential information 

It is not up to the province to revive Northern Pulp. If the company is to be revived, it needs to address all the issues which have been raised in the first two rounds of the EA. NP needs to come up with a solution that meets federal and provincial standards for protecting health and the environment. But NP says they have “paused” their participation in the EA process, although the clock is still ticking. 

We encourage Wilber to stop repeating these tired old complaints. Instead of looking backward for solutions, we suggest that he join others in his industry in finding a new way forward for forestry that responds to the needs of the present and the future. A solution that would benefit forestry and forests, climate and the environment would be a legacy we would join him in celebrating. 

Jill Graham-Scanlan is president, Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FONS), Pictou.



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