Environment Minister Margaret Miller held a press conference in Halifax on Friday to announce her decision regarding Northern Pulp’s proposal for a new wastewater treatment plant to replace the controversial Boat Harbour facility.
“I have carefully reviewed the submission from Northern Pulp, the comments from our expert government reviewers, and the comments from the public,” the minister told a scrum of reporters. “I have concluded that there is not enough information in the submission to properly assess the impacts on the environment of Nova Scotia. Therefore, my decision is to require a focus report from the company, to provide the information that is lacking.”
The minister says that her decision was informed, in part, by over 4,500 pages of comments on the issue of the proposed plant, gathered from over 900 interested parties, including ecological and governmental experts, and members of the general public.
In total, there were 19 issues cited where more information was needed by the minister to make a final decision on the project. These issues include questions about potential contaminants in the wastewater effluent, the need of an alternative pipeline route that does not shoulder Highway 106, clarification regarding the receiving water study for Caribou Harbour, and the lack of a Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge study – just to name a few.
The minister says the company can expect the full terms of reference for the required updates by April 24 or sooner. The company has up to a year to submit an updated report, which the minister is confident Northern Pulp can manage in that timeframe.
“Absolutely, it’s doable,” the minister says, explaining to reporters that the omissions by the company were not necessarily a failure of Northern Pulp to do its due diligence. “With a 1,700-page submission, Northern Pulp actually did a commendable job for getting a lot of information out to the department.”
However, the minister confirmed that the hard deadline to close the existing facility by the end of January 2020, as outlined in the Boat Harbour Act, has not changed, and when asked if she thought Northern Pulp could provide an update, get approval, and complete construction of the proposed facility in that timeframe, the minister declined to speculate.
“I can’t really be concerned about timeframes,” the minister says.
Northern Pulp expressed an eagerness to comply with the requested updates put forth by the minister, but also argued that the fact that so much more information is needed furthers their argument that they need an extension on the Boat Harbour Act deadline.
“We will provide more information as per the government’s request; however, as we’ve seen throughout this project, these requests take time,” Brian Baarda, Paper Excellence Canada CEO, said in a press release. “We require an extension to the legislated deadline, so we have enough time to collect the information and to finish our new wastewater treatment facility.”
Leaders of the opposition parties expressed their disappointment in the decision following the announcement, stating that the timeline needn’t have been so tight if the provincial government had been on top of things from the start.
“Because the government has failed, for so many years, to see that this environmental assessment was tabled in a timely manner, we could have had this in front of us two years ago,” says NDP Leader Gary Burrill. “What a shame that we’re in this spot.”
“It’s a surprise to me that the minister waited until the very last possible moment to say more information was needed,” says Tory Leader Tim Houston. “When you look at the decision today – the non-decision today – there’s a lot of questions. We’re seeing fallout from mistakes that were made very early by this Liberal government, in handling this.”
Burrill was also quick to criticize Northern Pulp’s lack of detailed information in their initial submission.
“Here we see Northern Pulp having come up short again,” says Burrill. “The Department of Environment has said they have failed to provide adequate information about human health impact, about fish habitat, about chemical composition of the effluent. Well, what is this about, if it’s not about fish habitat, human health impacts, and the chemical composition of the effluent? What in the world have they provided?”
Houston, who is also the MLA for Pictou East, said that his community is anxious to see this situation resolved, regardless of what side of the fence they fall on.
“I think everyone on every side of this will be curious as to why the government waited to the very last day to just say that they needed more information,” says Houston. “I think this will heighten anxieties on every side of the equation, and that is a failure of government.”
Despite those anxieties, Houston is firm on his stance towards the deadline of the Boat Harbour Act.
“I’ve always been of the position that I wouldn’t grant an extension, and that still stands. Based on what I know today, I wouldn’t grant an extension.”
The minister says that there will be a 30-day public consultation period once the updated report has been submitted.
Environment Minister Margaret Miller (centre) says Northern Pulp needs to provide more information before they can move forward with their new wastewater treatment facility.