To the Editor:
I’d like to address publicly the situation in Pictou County involving Northern Pulp and the subsequent closure of Boat Harbour by 2020 with regards to the ‘replacement’ treatment plan which includes a pipeline for the treated effluent to be discharged into the Northumberland Strait which is part of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. I have included a few links for ease of reference. I’ll refer to Northern Pulp as the ‘Mill’, but I’d like to clarify the fact that the ‘Mill’ is a subsidiary of Paper Excellence which is owned by the Widjaja family, which owns global conglomerate Sinar Mas Group. Among Sinar Mas’ holdings is Asia Pulp and Paper based in Indonesia which is one of the largest pulp and paper producers in the world. It has one of, if not the worst, environmental records on the planet; widely known for clear cutting rain forests, etc.
I mention the fact that the Northumberland Strait is part of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence as there are numerous studies to date reflecting the facts regarding the sensitivity of this marine ecosystem and the understanding marine biologists have in distinguishing this ‘inland sea’ as unique from a planetary scale and the continuing need to reduce and control the pollution it is subjected to. The reason for this letter is to bring much needed attention to the situation that many local fishermen and residents are simply in ‘disbelief’ that the solution to the closure of Boat Harbour would indeed include simply piping the ‘treated’ effluent into the Strait; the consensus is that ‘in this day and age’ that wouldn’t be possible. Especially when it’s so very obvious, the toxins and pollutants, when you consider the approximate 133 million of tax payers dollars that it will take to remediate the pollution deposited in Boat Harbour by the Mill. It’s not only possible, but it is actually going to take a concentrated and unified effort to have any chance of actually preventing this pipeline from happening. When you consider the Mill has hired a company to do an environmental assessment for ‘them’, to thereby have the new treatment facility and pipeline approved by the same government that is on the proverbial ‘hook’ to supply a place for the effluent! When you consider an indemnity agreement was signed in 1995 between Scott Maritimes, original owners of the Mill, and the provincial government, which is/has carried forwarded thanks to all three governments that have ‘governed’ in the interim.
This expedited ‘environmental assessment’ has no possible way to inclusively incorporate and determine all the short and long term effects this pollution will have on the local fisheries, including all the various plankton, zooplankton, krill, porpoises, Bluefin tuna, Right whales (zooplankton and krill are the main feed source for the endangered Northern Right Whale which as of late, like the Bluefin Tuna, have been showing up in the Southern Gulf and Northumberland Strait in unprecedented numbers undoubtedly due to a lack of feed for them in the open Atlantic Ocean. Note as well, the Southern Gulf region and Northumberland Strait is particularly rich and productive in plankton); various filter feeding shell fish, lobsters, snow crab, rock crab, groundfish, herring, mackerel, seals, etc., and all the associated spawn, eggs, larvae, etc. It is common sense at the current point in time that pulp and paper waste is not conducive or conductive to the promotion of marine life and actually is proven to cause increase mortality to all forms studied. If you ask the Mill’s executives what the ‘back up plan’ is if the environmental assessment their company has contracted to do fails to meet government’s approval, (that same government that has the legal obligation to supply a place for the effluent), there is no response as there is no back up plan; they fully expect that government is going to okay the assessment. Isn’t this in itself a conflict of interest? Think about that.
It should also be noted that the new home of the end of the purposed pipeline is the heart of LFA 26. (Lobster Fishing Areas — there are 41 LFA’s in Canada, of them, LFA 26 as a whole is amongst the highest producers in tonnage of annual lobsters landed). I’m highlighting lobster as this is the main source of revenue for the 1,000 plus fishers who fish this zone commercially. An acquaintance and fellow fisherman recently noted at one of the many meetings currently on-going regarding this issue, “It only took one diseased steer to basically cripple the beef industry in Canada for over five years.” Well for those who aren’t aware, the lobster industry in Eastern Canada is our country’s largest fish export and from the Gulf alone, the annual landings account for over $250 million. Marketing, including MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certification, is of major importance to our continued successful lobster industry; imagine the potential damage if one person gets sick from a contaminated lobster due to pulp and paper waste, or worse, dies? This wouldn’t simply affect Pictou, Caribou and the surrounding area, but at a minimum all of LFA 26 and potentially all of Canadian lobster. You might think that’s a ‘stretch’, but consider recently how a handful of lobster that ended up in Swedish waters had the potential to end up ‘banning’ all Canadian lobster imports into the European Union!
This intended pipeline has the very real possibility to cripple not only LFA 26 lobster exported, but Canadian lobster as a whole. The Northumberland Fishermen’s Association, along with the Gulf Fleet Planning Board, the Maritime Fishermen’s Association, including businesses involved in tourism, as well as concerned local citizens, along with the PEIFA (Prince Edward Island Fishermen’s Association) all see the negative potential this effluent pipelined into the Strait has the potential to cause. The PEIFA’s government has not agreed to supply a ‘home’ for the effluent from the Mill; possibly the reason our local government, excluding local MLA Karla MacFarlane, hasn’t had much to say on the issue?
When you consider in this day and age a mill of this type would never be located in proximity to an urban area, due to the known hazards caused by the air and water emissions, how do we continue to ignore the abundance of information available and will we potentially jeopardize our lobster industry and the many other species that inhabit the Northumberland Strait and southern Gulf of St. Lawrence?
We’ve all read that a ‘closed loop’ system is not viable for the type of paper produced at the mill and it might not be economically viable to change the Mill’s end product and still be profitable; so what is the solution? The mere fact that the Mill has openly admitted at meetings that they cannot simply pipe the new effluent directly to their backyard (Pictou Harbour) as they have admitted there is not enough water flow/tide/currents, etc., and the result would be a polluted harbour so the apparent solution is to spend millions to pipe the effluent further into the heart of our lobster bottom and hope for a solution by dilution! No less toxins, dioxins, furans, mercury, etc. and of course, no back flow towards Boat Harbour. Perhaps the government could actually fight legally to remove this indemnity clause that has them as the supplier for a home for the effluent? I would think with the new environmental awareness there may be a precedent of law that may provide a reasonable ‘out’ for our government?
When you consider the fact that the bulk of the profits end up in Indonesia and the Widjaja family probably aren’t too worried about the health of the people of Pictou County, or the fishing industry for that matter, it is somewhat frustrating. When you consider the hundreds of millions of tax dollars that have been allotted to keep the Mill operating here, the hundreds of millions potentially lost in our fishing industry, and I haven’t even mentioned lost revenue to tourism due to the stench, the potential compensation required to fishermen when the local fishery is wiped out, etc. This doesn’t seem to be well thought out?
Something else our government should actually be considering is, this effluent not only has the potential to negatively affect the local fishing/tourism community in general, including the local area indigenous band at Pictou Landing, but indigenous peoples from throughout Eastern Canada who come here to fish Bluefin tuna, groundfish and snow crab — from other parts of Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick and Quebec. If, in fact, this pollution directed via a new pipeline negatively affected any of these fisheries, there is potential for Nova Scotia to be financially responsible to all the other Eastern Provinces in the event this so-called environmental study is successful and our government allows pulp and paper toxic waste via a pipe line to the Northumberland Strait and Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence!
We, as a community, should look at hiring our own company to do a thorough, unbiased environmental study and potentially group together with the other provinces to take legal action at a federal level to actually have a chance at controlling the fate regarding the ‘Mill’ and the new home for its effluent.
A few links for related information: