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Restart plan for Northern Pulp calls for treated effluent to go into Pictou harbour

The proposal for Northern Pulp to restart the mill would see treated effluent released into Pictou harbour.

The company submitted its plan to Nova Scotia's Environment Department on May 14, but to date has not made any details public. Last week, company officials presented the restart information to the mayors and warden of Pictou County.

Attendees of the virtual meeting also included Dale Paterson and Bruce Chapman from the company, a representative of the court-appointed monitor for the company's creditor protection and a communications person.

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan said that at the end of the meeting, the communications person said the briefing was confidential.

"I made it very clear to them that, as far as I was concerned, it would not be considered confidential," he said in an interview.

"That wasn't a condition of the meeting."

'It's unacceptable,' says mayor

Ryan said "it's unacceptable" that treated effluent would be directed into Pictou harbour.

"Obviously, as an industry, they will have a right to submit an environmental plan to the Department of Environment, but I can't imagine that they are talking about pumping the effluent straight into the harbour, even though they do talk about a secondary level of treatment prior to it going into the harbour," said Ryan.

"I know they're going to talk about treatments and they're going to talk about how good the effluent is going to be or how clear the effluent is going to be, but it's still effluent and they're talking about putting it into a harbour that, in 2017, they said themselves they couldn't put it into the harbour because the harbour didn't flush quick enough."

The company is awaiting word from the province about whether its plan will be subjected to a Class 1 or Class 2 environmental assessment, the latter being longer and more stringent. Environment Minster Keith Irving has said there's no timeline for when he'll make that decision.

Ryan said the plan calls for the use of less water from the Middle River, but he noted outstanding questions remain about the composition of the effluent before and after treatment.

'Best available technology'

In a statement sent to CBC News on Thursday, Graham Kissak, spokesperson for Northern Pulp parent company Paper Excellence, said the exact wastewater release point would be determined following environmental studies and community engagement.

Kissak said the company knows it needs to do better by the community if it is to restart operations.

"As a result of community input over the past few years, it is clear that tomorrow's mill operations and processes — from community engagement and transparency to forestry practices and addressing odour, air, and water emissions — must be better than the mill of yesterday. We are proposing a complete transformation of Northern Pulp using best available technology, and in some cases, first-of-its-kind technology in Canada, to address community issues and concerns."

Kissak said the company will be releasing details on the plan, including the proposed effluent treatment facility, and beginning a thorough stakeholder engagement process "in the near future."

Divided views

Ryan said the mayors and warden were told that extra sludge produced as a result of treatment on the mill site would be burned in the power boiler, something that creates further concerns for him as it relates to air emissions.

Robert Parker, the warden of the Municipality of Pictou County, said the company discussed a more aggressive treatment of the effluent before it hits the water, although details remain unclear.

Parker said his council doesn't have a firm position on the mill reopening because not all council members have seen the proposal.

"Our council always tried to stay very neutral anyway because we were as split as general society around here," he said.

"We had some councillors, you know, very much on the fishing industry end of things and some on the forestry and a bunch more in the middle, hoping this would get settled."

Trust issues

The mill was forced to shut down at the end of January 2020 when it failed to get approval for a treatment facility to replace the use of Boat Harbour. The former tidal estuary was legislated to be closed to effluent by the Boat Harbour Act.

Northern Pulp put forward this new proposal after it failed to gain environmental approval for the previous plan that would have seen treated effluent piped 14 kilometres from the mill site at Abercombie Point and discharged into the Northumberland Strait.

That proposal faced intense opposition from fishermen, environmentalists, municipal officials and the Pictou Landing First Nation.

Ryan said he found it "comical" that mill officials talked during the meeting about making the mill look better from across the harbour through the use of siding and other cosmetic features. There is also talk of reduced plumes coming from the stacks.

"Those are all valiant statements, I suppose, if you want to gain credibility or trust with a community, but it didn't do anything with respect to increasing our trust in the mill," he said.

Plan could become public soon

None of what the company is proposing works well with the Town of Pictou's efforts to revitalize its waterfront, said Ryan. Council hopes to create a marine destination in the harbour.

Ryan said the company turned down a previous invitation to present to his council, although officials offered to come back to present sometime after June 27, and suggested their plan would be released to the public by then.


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