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Gloomy forestry future if Northern Pulp closes: study

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HALIFAX — A study by a Nova Scotia consulting firm has concluded that Northern Pulp’s closure would devastate the province’s forest industry and shrink its economy.

However, the Friends of the Northumberland Strait that supports its fishery and opposes the pulp mill’s intentions to discharge treated effluent through a pipe into the Strait has termed a call to start work immediately on the pipe project before an environmental assessment is complete an act of desperation.

“It was shocking to hear the union ask that numerous laws of Nova Scotia and Canada be broken, to make up for Northern Pulp not being anywhere near to having an environmentally acceptable plan for their effluent,” FONS president Jill Murray-Scanlan said in a press release. “There is no reason to assume that Northern Pulp’s plan will ever meet environmental regulations or ever get approved.”

Bob Fraser, representing Gardner Pinfold Consulting Inc. which completed the 38-page impact study, and Unifor National President Jerry Dias were in Halifax on August 7 to address a press conference and share portions of the study.

Gardner Pinfold was asked to conduct the study to show how dependent the forestry industry is on the pulp mill, which has been forced to redirect its effluent from the treatment facility at Boat Harbour after its scheduled closure in January 2020.

The Department of Environment sought more information from Northern Pulp than it submitted in its application to treat the effluent on-sight and send it through a pipe into the Northumberland Strait.

“The solution is right here,” Dias said in a telephone interview that followed the press conference, which drew media outlets to the event and was live-streamed on Facebook.

He said the pulp mill wants to apply waste treatment technology that works elsewhere and has taken the time to provide the information the department sought.

Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation and its parent company Paper Excellence Canada were given a year by the department on April 24 to respond and complete a focus report requested by former Environment Minister Margaret Miller after she sought more information on March 29 regarding the proposed replacement effluent treatment facility project Northern Pulp registered.

However, Dias said the uncertainty over the fate of the mill’s pipe proposal is damaging the forest industry in Nova Scotia.

“It’s causing economic instability,” he said. “Saw mills are not investing.”

Data in the study included profiles of Pictou County and four other regions in the province. It showed Pictou County has 13 saw mills, the most in Nova Scotia. The mills and other forestry operations represented eight per cent of Nova Scotia’s tree harvest in 2017. The study indicated that Pictou County’s unemployment rate is 2.5 per cent higher than the provincial average

The report represents one year of operation by Northern Pulp.

Average Northern Pulp employee earnings are $86,000 and raise the average across the province to more than $40,000.

A potential mill closure would impact the $191 million in GDP, nearly 2,700 full-time equivalent jobs and more than $38 million in federal and provincial tax revenue, the study says.

“Significant” capital investment would be required for alternative forestry activity.

“Over a longer period of time, most likely more than a decade, there could be industry transition that takes advantage of the forest resource as it continues to grow,” it said. “However, industry transition would be a slow process and very challenging to recover to current levels of economic activity.”

The study drew Scotsburn Lumber as an example of the closure’s impact. It buys a third of its saw logs from Northern Pulp and sells to it all its wood chips

Northern Pulp purchases 90 per cent of its wood chips from six operations, including five in Nova Scotia.

Dias said the most surprising statistic in the Gardner Pinfold study was the spinoff work the pulp mill operation generates throughout the forestry sector, and that the workforce relies heavily on forestry and saw mills.

Fraser acknowledged that the fishery is a significant industry but it doesn’t match forestry in terms of spinoffs.

The study produced figures showing that Northern Pulp employs 352 that include 230 members of Unifor. It says that Northern Pulp’s closure would impact by a factor of 8-1 nearly 2,700 full-time jobs.

“I knew the spinoff jobs were significant,” Dias said. “I didn’t realize it was 8-1. That is huge. A lot of people are concentrating on the environment issue, but this is a major investment long-term.”

Dias said 200 of the 230 union members are between the ages of 35 and 45. “These are young families,” Dias said. “The forestry sector has brought young people home.”

Murray-Scanlan and Northumberland Fishermen’s Association member Allan MacCarthy jointly questioned how the Gardner Pinfold’s findings downplayed the fishery’s significance and shared figures that referred to a fisheries economic impact review that shows seafood exports total $2 billion of Nova Scotia’s $5.4 billion total, compared to $482 million from combined wood pulp and paper products.

They cited Department of Fisheries figures that indicate more than 18,000 people work in the fishing industry in Nova Scotia, and a Fisheries and Oceans Canada reference that the fisheries of the Southern Gulf that includes the Northumberland Strait represents 30 per cent of Canada’s fishery revenue.

They claimed that more than 3,000 fishermen from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. make their living from the Northumberland Strait.