The clock is ticking for the Boat Harbour wastewater treatment facility in Pictou Landing. The Boat Harbour Act passed in 2015 stipulates that the facility must be closed by the end of January next year.
Northern Pulp, however, is seeking an extension.
The company, alongside the Paper Excellence Group, held a press conference in Halifax on Jan. 31 — exactly one year before the deadline stipulated in the Boat Harbour Act — announcing it is seeking a change in the legislation to allow for the time needed to open a new, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility.
“We all have the same goal, and that is to see Boat Harbour returned to its natural state,” says Kathy Cloutier, director of Corporate Communications for Paper Excellence. “We simply need a bit more time to assure the time and due diligence to carry out each phase.”
Before this announcement, Cloutier — alongside Paper Excellence CEO Vice President, Operations East Jean Francois Guillot and Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation General Manager Bruce Chapman — detailed the company’s stated efforts since the passing of the Boat Harbour Act, as well as the pitfalls they faced, which they say included unachievable goals and resistance by the fishing community.
Also discussed were the scientific merits of the proposed $130-million treatment facility, which would use an Activated Sludge Treatment (AST) system, which mills across Canada use today. Paper Excellence says that with this system, no untreated waste water would leave the Northern Pulp site.
The question on reporters’ minds was, of course, ‘how much time are we talking about?’
“What we’re looking at today…we’re talking about a year, in the whereabouts of a year,” says Guillot. Cloutier explained that this year would be to allow for the environmental assessment, construction commissioning, and in general just assuring that they’ve dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.
While Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence seemed confident that the extension would be approved and that they will, as Cloutier said, “be the company that works with Pictou Landing First Nation” and “changes this legacy…that we have acquired,” Pictou Landing First Nation member Durney Nicholas has heard it all before.
“They lied to us the first day, and probably are still lying,” says Nicholas, who attended the press conference. “They’ve promised a lot of stuff, and none of them, didn’t work.”
Cloutier says that Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence are committed to working with Pictou Landing First Nation to find a compromise that works for them as rights-holders, as well as the paper mill’s stakeholders.
“We respect everyone’s opinions,” says Cloutier. “I do believe that, with continued and ongoing conversations, we will reach a goal that everyone is comfortable with.”
When asked what Northern Pulp would do if the bid for an extension fails and the January 2020 deadline is maintained, Cloutier said the company would respect the law.
“We will not operate illegally,” Cloutier says, while not clarifying for questioning reporters if that would mean the loss of jobs or the closure of the paper mill. “We would not contravene that act if there’s no extension.”
Jeff Bishop, executive director of Forest Nova Scotia, says he appreciates that the community has been waiting 50 years for a resolution.
“I understand completely where the Pictou Landing First Nation is coming from,” says Bishop. “They have been, over the years, told different things by different governments and different owners of this mill. So it’s not surprising to hear, when there is a solid date in place with the Boat Harbour Act, that they would like to stick to that.”
Even so, Bishop says that the forestry sector of Nova Scotia is deeply interconnected, with saw mills selling excess wood to paper mills, and the 25,000-30,000 tree lot owners selling wood to the market to make ends meet. He says that the loss of the Northern Pulp facility over failure to secure an extension would send ripples across the province.
“The successful continued operation of Northern Pulp is a large piece… of the economy of this province,” says Bishop.
“Not to disregard for a second the impact that that community has felt by the operation of the facility right next door — their literal own back yard — these decisions that are to come in the coming weeks and months impact the entire economy of this province, and well-being of a number of communities. Including theirs.”
Whether or not the extension is accepted, Nicholas just wants this whole affair to be over.
“Get it done as soon as possible now, I guess,” he says. “It’s taken a long time. I remember when it started, I was only a young fella, myself. Hopefully someday, I see clear water again over there.”
Kathy Cloutier, director of Corporate Communications for Paper Excellence, speaks during the Northern Pulp press conference. (Muise photo)