Northern Pulp Mill. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The Nova Scotia Department of Environment has listed nine pages worth of missing information from Northern Pulp’s Environmental Assessment of a new wastewater treatment system to replace the 50-year-old one at Boat Harbour next to the Pictou landing First Nation.

The missing information is required to fulfil the “terms and conditions” of a focus report the mill must file to help regulators decide whether to greenlight the proposed replacement for the toxic mess at Boat Harbour.

The Department of Environment says the information provided by the company in its Environmental Assessment this past January was “insufficient.”

The province is requiring the mill owned by Paper Excellence Canada, a subsidiary of a global company based in Indonesia, to study the impact of the treated effluent on lucrative fish stocks in the Northumberland Strait such as lobster and herring, as well as requiring a human health survey that considers the potential impact on people who eat that fish.

Northern Pulp must also declare the chemical ingredients (and their proportions) of what it expects to come out that pipe under the Strait, an obvious shortcoming when trying to evaluate risk.

Another condition requires the company do some work to predict the  impact of effluent which will be at a higher temperature than the usual wastewater and will be discharged at a spot several kilometres further into the Strait than first envisioned. What the company had submitted was a study by Stantec of the original discharge site before the underwater pipeline was re-routed through Caribou Harbour.

The Department of Environment has also vetoed the company’s plan to use the shoulder of Highway 106 to pipe polluted water overland to a yet-to-be-built treatment plant before the wastewater gets flushed into the Strait.  The Nova Scotia Department of Transportation won’t allow the shoulder of the road to be used to bury pipelines, something Sempra Gas learned 20 years ago when it hoped to distribute natural gas.

One of the terms and conditions in the focus report made public yesterday afternoon is that Northern Pulp must find and submit a new overland pipeline route, as well as document that route’s potential impact on a wetland area, plants, and migratory birds. (The company must also describe how it would inspect the overland pipeline and respond in the event of a leak which could potentially affect water supply for the Town of Pictou).

The province is also demanding the company back up its choice of design for the water treatment facility:

Provide effluent flow data to support the proposed peak treatment capacity of 85,000 m3 maximum flow of effluent per day. At a minimum, data from 2017 and 2018 is required.

There are many more terms and conditions, but you get the drift. It’s a big “To Do” list to pull off in the next 12 months, the time period specified for the Environmental Assessment process in the Environment Act. Asked whether the company will be able to meet those conditions or instead opt to stop running the mill in January 2020 when the Boat Harbour treatment facility will close for good, here’s what Northern Pulp spokesperson Kathy Cloutier replied in an email.

Having just received the Terms of Reference provided by Nova Scotia Environment’s EA department, over the coming week Northern Pulp will review the details to determine timelines and other associated factors related to the additional information request. 

Two of those “associated factors” in the province’s directive to Northern Pulp yesterday are to keep both the Pictou Landing First Nation and the Department of Environment in the loop while the company carries out studies and gathers information:

During the preparation of the Focus Report, it is strongly recommended that Northern Pulp Nova Scotia continues to engage with relevant stakeholders and the Mi’kmaq including Pictou Landing First Nation, and to share relevant studies and reports….Consultation with the Nova Scotia Environment Dept in the development of the Focus Report is required.

With the province requiring so much information  at this late date — nine months before the legislated closure date of the old Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility which the McNeil government announced more than four years ago — the larger question is why the company didn’t submit its Environmental Assessment much earlier if it intended to stay in business at Abercrombie, Pictou County. And why the information submitted was so incomplete if the company really expected the Department of Environment to approve a new effluent treatment system.

Paper Excellence Canada’s actions suggest maybe it never intended to operate Northern Pulp past 2020.

That said, the billionaire Indonesian family that owns the mill has asked the province to allow it to continue to run past the January 2020 deadline, a request the province has so far rightfully refused.


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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Premier McNeil preparing to sign another 9 figure cheque to bail out a pension plan for paper mill workers.