Northern Pulp — what was Nova Scotia's largest pulp and paper mill until it was forced by the provincial government to close last year — says it's engaging with the community in its quest to reopen, but some say they've been left out of the process.
Others are refusing to work with the mill.
The Pictou County mill, now insolvent, has been reporting to a judge at the Supreme Court of British Columbia since July as part of creditor protection proceedings. In a series of submissions between July and December, the mill reported on activity of an "environmental liaison committee."
The committee, according to one report to the court, "was designed to engage and solicit key stakeholder commentary" on potential issues with the mill's proposed effluent treatment facility, and reach consensus on solutions to those issues.
In addition to chair Dale Paterson, described as "an experienced pulp and paper consultant," Northern Pulp said the committee is made up of:
Representatives from the Pictou County community.
Councillors from the Municipality of Pictou County.
Retired and current Northern Pulp employees.
Owners of companies within Pictou County.
Retired and current fishers.
Fishing industry says it's left out
Leaders from three fishing industry associations — the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, and the Maritime Fishermen's Union — say there is no one on the committee representing them.
"We are concerned that several members of Northern Pulp's environmental liaison committee may claim to represent commercial fishing interests. We are also concerned that Northern Pulp may claim that they have consulted with and considered the interests of commercial fishers in this region," the groups said in a press release.
"Our organizations strenuously assert that no individual currently on the Environmental Liaison Committee represents the interests of the fishing industry in this region, or has authority to represent the views or concerns of our industry associations."
Since before it shuttered in January 2020, the pulp mill has been seeking environmental approval from the province for a new effluent treatment facility.
The proposal includes piping treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait, which has been opposed by local fishers for fear the wastewater would degrade the marine environment and harm fish stocks. Some from the fishing industry opposed it so vehemently they blockaded survey boats working for the mill in Pictou Harbour in 2018.
The province rejected the proposed effluent treatment project twice in 2019, citing a lack of information about possible environmental effects, but Northern Pulp has said it intends to keep trying.
More recently, in court documents, the mill has hinted that it may abandon the twice-rejected plan and start from scratch. In the mill's latest report on Dec. 8, it said the environmental assessment process was "inactive."
Town, First Nation declined to join committee
Pictou Landing First Nation pushed for several decades for the mill's former effluent treatment facility at Boat Harbour to close.
Boat Harbour, a former tidal estuary adjacent to Pictou Landing First Nation, is now slated to be cleaned up of contaminants that have built up over more than 50 years of mill operations, and returned to its former state.
Pictou Landing, which counts some fishers among its members, also opposed the mill's plan to pipe wastewater into the Northumberland Strait.
Northern Pulp noted in its reports to the B.C. court that Pictou Landing First Nation declined to participate in the environmental liaison committee, but the company said it would share meeting minutes, try to "build and strengthen" its relationship with the First Nation, and address its concerns as the mill restructures.
In a post to her Facebook page last month, Pictou Landing Chief Andrea Paul said she refused the invitation to join the stakeholder committee because "there is no trust" between her community and the mill.
Paul said Northern Pulp told her last May it was planning to come up with a new design for its effluent treatment facility, and it promised it would not go ahead with any plan if Pictou Landing had concerns.
Paul said in order to believe that, she wanted to see the mill withdraw its application for a provincial environmental assessment and its application to Nova Scotia Supreme Court for a judicial review of the province's latest rejection.
In her post, Paul said there was no reason for Pictou Landing to participate in the environmental liaison committee without those terms being met.
"We will not be used as an opportunity for [Northern Pulp] to appear as being sincere. We never asked for minutes of the committee meetings and have asked Northern Pulp not to provide us with any further minutes. We have not agreed to review any results from the committee or any further proposals."
The Town of Pictou, which sits directly across Pictou Harbour from the pulp mill, also declined an invitation from Northern Pulp to join the committee.
Mayor Jim Ryan said the invitation came to him last September from Paterson, the committee chair.
Ryan said he considered Paterson's invitation, but when he learned about the committee's objective — finding consensus on environmental issues related to a restart of the mill — he decided not to participate.
In an interview, Ryan said it was the word "consensus" that deterred him.
Ryan and his council have two primary concerns with the mill building a new effluent treatment facility: air pollution, and the possibility of contamination to the town's water supply from the effluent pipe — proposed to run through part of the town.
Ryan said he felt as though the committee format would force him to compromise on his town's concerns.
"These are of very high priority to us, not to be ranked among others," Ryan said in an interview.
Northern Pulp has not responded to CBC's request for comment.
Committee sending out more invitations
The environmental liaison committee told CBC by email that it welcomed the "high level of interest" shown by the fishing industry groups and said it planned to invite them to join.
"We will continue to add new members and have recently started to contact individuals and groups who have previously expressed concerns about Northern Pulp's operations," the email said.
"More information on the ELC, its objectives, and a list of volunteer members will be released in the near future."