HALIFAX, N.S. —
Premier Stephen McNeil on Wednesday said he needs more time to make a crucial decision on the Boat Harbour and Northern Pulp issue.
“The regulator has given the company the opportunity to file an environmental assessment report, which could take up to two years,” McNeil said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
“Our government now faces a very difficult decision — whether to give the company an extension to allow it to do the work necessary to prove it can operate in an environmentally sound manner, or let the Boat Harbour deadline stand, effectively shutting down the mill.
“Because this is one of the most difficult decisions our government has had to make to date, we need to take more time to reflect. At the same time, I understand how difficult this is for many Nova Scotians for many different reasons and I will make a decision public on Friday.”
The regulator the premier referred to is Environment Minister Gordon Wilson, who on Tuesday withheld approval of Northern Pulp’s focus report in support of its proposed effluent treatment facility that would discharge treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.
“I’ve concluded that I need more science-based evidence, more information before me to properly assess the potential risk to air, water, fish and human health,” Wilson said Tuesday. “As a result, I’ve decided that Northern Pulp must file an environmental assessment report if they want to continue with this project.”
The company said Tuesday that an extension of the Boat Harbour Act is required to keep the mill running. The existing government-owned Boat Harbour effluent treatment plant has been in operation since the mill opened in 1967 but it is legislated to close on Jan. 31, 2020, predicated on an agreement reached between the provincial Liberal government and Pictou Landing First Nation more than five years ago.
“An environmental assessment and the continued operations of Northern Pulp require an extension to the Boat Harbour Act,” Brian Baarda, chief executive officer of Paper Excellence Canada, Northern Pulp’s parent company, said in a Tuesday statement. “Until we have a decision on the extension of Boat Harbour Act, the future of Northern Pulp and Nova Scotia’s forestry sector remain in jeopardy. We ask that the government of Nova Scotia provide a decision on the Boat Harbour Act as soon as possible to ease the sense of unknown amongst the thousands of families who are anxiously awaiting a decision on their future in Nova Scotia.”
The mill’s focus report stated that effluent to be treated at the plant proposed for construction on mill property will be piped to an outfall four kilometres from shore at Caribou, achieving better dilution than is the case with the effluent that is currently discharged from the Boat Harbour facility. The 245-page focus report claimed that the 85 million litres of treated effluent being discharged daily into the Northumberland Strait would not harm marine species in the vicinity.
The company has said in the past that it would take at least 18 months to build the new effluent treatment facility and 15-kilometre pipeline once it receives the government go-ahead.
Fishermen’s associations from all three Maritime provinces, Pictou Landing First Nation, tourism operators, cottagers, boaters and outdoor enthusiasts oppose the Northern Pulp plan to dump treated effluent in the Northumberland Strait.
Northern Pulp manufactures 280,000 tonnes of Kraft pulp annually, primarily for export to manufacture household products such as tissue, toilet paper, writing and copy paper.
The mill is an important economic driver that generates more than $200 million annually into the Nova Scotia economy. The mill directly employs 300 workers and indirectly creates a significant number of well-paying jobs in typically high-unemployment and rural areas through its connections with private woodlot owners, forestry contractors and local sawmills.
The Environment Department will post draft terms of reference for the requested environmental assessment report online by Jan. 10 and the public and government reviewers will have 30 days to comment. The mill has up to two years to submit its environmental assessment report.
More to come