Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FONS) and the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association(NFA) say they were surprised to discover documents showing that Northern Pulp told a BC court they were establishing a community liaison committee to find solutions for their proposed new effluent treatment facility.
According to a July 28 affidavit from Bruce Chapman, Northern Pulp’s General Manager, presented to a BC court under Creditor Protection proceedings, the committee was to have started meeting several weeks ago. Neither group has heard anything from Northern Pulp about it, although one member from FONS and one member from the fishing industry are listed as proposed committee members.
“This committee is not about consultation, says Allan MacCarthy of the NFA. “Northern Pulp is setting up a process where they write the rules, pick the players, decide who can be consulted, and set the timelines. It looks like they want to pass responsibility and blame for their failures to other groups.”
“In four short weeks, Northern Pulp expects their hand-picked committee of 12 to identify all community environmental problems, prioritize them, and reach consensus on solutions,” says Jill Graham-Scanlan, President of FONS. “In five years, Northern Pulp has not been able to do this in a way that meets environmental standards.”
“For two years Northern Pulp has ignored the facts and the expert scientific evidence we presented,” says MacCarthy. “They even refuse to accept easily proven facts like where we fish, where herring spawn, and how the tides and currents of the Northumberland Strait work. Why would we think things would be different now?”
Graham-Scanlan is concerned that the committee would pit one section of the community against another. “Northern Pulp wants committee members to “prioritize” community concerns. There is no need to prioritize between human health, air quality, protection of a town’s watershed, protection of the complex ecosystem of the Northumberland Strait, protection of the fishing industry, protection of wetlands or other factors. The law requires they all be protected, so Northern Pulp must protect them all,” she explains.
The groups note that Northern Pulp claims they have ‘paused’ participation in the legislated EA process, although there is no legal way to do that. The clock is still ticking. Meanwhile, the company wants to set up their own process, where the goal is not environmental protection, but the re-opening of Northern Pulp.
“Northern Pulp seems to be trying to do an end-run around the Environmental Assessment laws,” says Graham-Scanlan. “It sounds like a case of ‘when you don’t like the rules, make your own.’”
“This committee has nothing to do with science,” says MacCarthy. “In two years and two rounds of environmental assessment, Northern Pulp still has not provided the full composition of the effluent they plan to release into the Strait. A committee that is set up to find solutions without science or facts, except those provided by Northern Pulp or their hand-picked experts, has no legitimacy.”
The groups note that the company did not appear interested in consultation during the EA process. “The last consultation we had with Northern Pulp, they answered our concerns with ‘No pipe = No mill,’ says MacCarthy.
The company did not hold even one public consultation on the new route and discharge point introduced in October 2018, which includes running the effluent pipe through the Town of Pictou watershed for 10 km, through several wetlands, through 4 km of protected marine area and dumping 80 million litres of bleached kraft effluent into the prime fishing grounds of Caribou Harbour every day.
“Northern Pulp cannot earn social license through a hand-picked committee that meets for a few weeks and comes to conclusions. Instead of healing wounds, this proposal will only create more division in our communities,” says Graham-Scanlan. Both groups say if they are contacted, they will not participate.
“If Northern Pulp really wants to address community concerns, we are curious whether the company has submitted all the required information about their October 2018 effluent leak– how it happened without the company’s knowledge when they were required to monitor effluent discharge 24/7, how much effluent leaked, and what it contained,” adds Graham-Scanlan.
There are only 20 -30 bleached kraft mills in Canada. Northern Pulp is one. There is nowhere else in Canada where 80 million litres of effluent from a bleached kraft mill are discharged every day into waters with the shallow depths, complex tides and currents, and extensive ice build-up and ice scour that are found in the Northumberland Strait, while running through a marine protected area and a town’s watershed, and discharging into a herring spawning ground.
"If Northern Pulp really wants to re-open, they know what they have to do," says Graham-Scanlan. “The company needs to address all the issues which have been raised in the first two rounds of the EA process, and come up with a solution that meets federal and provincial standards for protecting health and the environment. The place to address this complex combination of issues is through the legislated environmental assessment process," she notes.