Officials with the company that owns the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County, N.S., say they're pausing the process to apply to build a new effluent treatment plant and also challenging an order from the environment minister in court.
The mill has not operated since January, when it was forced to shut down after failing to secure approval to build a new effluent treatment facility.
As mill owner Paper Excellence Canada has tried to determine if it would follow the environmental assessment report process to try to get approval for its project, the company has also been placing the mill in hibernation.
Environment Minister Gordon Wilson issued a new order last month outlining requirements the company needs to follow to shut down, clean up and maintain the property. Graham Kissack, a spokesperson for Paper Excellence Canada, said the company is challenging the order because "it doesn't reflect sound science."
Wilson has stood by the order and the staff in his department who helped develop it, saying he expects the company to abide by the terms. But Kissack countered in an interview Monday that there are "fundamental problems and errors," which the company couldn't accept. "They're erroneous and they're inappropriate."
Taking more time to talk
He pointed to a requirement for the company to be responsible for the quality of water flowing from Boat Harbour, the mill's former treatment site, into the Northumberland Strait, even now that it's stopped sending anything into the former tidal estuary.
The company has also expressed concerns that settling ponds are likely to go septic, creating odour problems, if they cannot be flushed. Kissack said the company would follow the parts of the order it can, but he was frank that not all of it would be followed.
"We're happy to comply with the order where we can comply, but in this instance there are some examples within the order that are just disconnected with reality."
The environmental assessment (EA) report process pause is a "recognition of the importance of social licence" and the relationship between the mill and its neighbours, said Kissack.
"We believe that there's opportunities to improve that situation before we would consider moving ahead on the EA."
Timelines do not change
That's going to mean further efforts to assuage members of Pictou Landing First Nation, people who fish the Northumberland Strait, the Town of Pictou, whose watershed a proposed pipeline was supposed to cross, and members of the area tourism industry.
Nothing to date, however, has indicated that any of those groups are interested in seeing the mill proceed with its plan.
Kissack acknowledged the situation with Boat Harbour, once fertile territory for the neighbouring First Nation before it was polluted beyond recognition, has been divisive for decades. But he said the company is hopeful it can find common ground "and the economic and environmental truth of the facility can be recognized."
A spokesperson for the Environment Department said the two-year window for Paper Excellence to submit its environmental assessment report remains in place, should the company decide to submit a report
"This decision does not change that timeline," Rachel Boomer said in an email.
The only wiggle room the company would have on the timeline is if it were to apply for a one-year extension, however that would require approval from the minister.
Should the deadline lapse without the company submitting an application, that would be the end of the road for the project, which called for effluent to be treated on the mill property and sent through a pipeline to be discharged into the Northumberland Strait.
If company officials were to decide to pursue a different approach, the process would have to start at the very beginning of the application process. Kissack said the company remains committed to finding a way to operate again in Nova Scotia.
"It's a very viable facility," he said. "It's a good fibre supply [and] excellent skilled employees. We want to be back there."