No pipe. Not yet

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Northern Pulp’s effluent pipe proposal continues to remain in limbo.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson has sought an environmental assessment report from Northern Pulp for its proposed effluent treatment plant, which will delay his decision.

Wilson announced his request on Tuesday morning as part of a media teleconference. A copy of his letter to Northern Pulp’s general manager Bruce Chapman accompanied his announcement.

In his letter to Chapman, Wilson expressed concern over several areas.

The company expressed disappointment in the decision in a press release: “Currently, we are reviewing the decision and our options for the future of Northern Pulp,” the prepared statement from Brian Baarda, Paper Excellence Canada, said.

“While there has been some good work done here, I have concluded I need more science-based information before me to properly assess the potential risks to air, water, fish and human health,” Wilson said in the press release. “An environmental assessment report will have to address these issues, and others, to be successful.”

Wilson’s decision is the latest milestone this year regarding the proposal to treat effluent at the mill and discharge the effluent through a pipe into the Northumberland Strait.

Northern Pulp unveiled its plan to discharge 85 million litres of treated effluent daily into the lucrative fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait two years ago. The proposal prompted strong opposition from fishermen from Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick and Pictou Landing First Nation.

The company registered its project for what has been referred to as a Class One environmental assessment on Feb. 7, but the former environment minister responded on March 29 by seeking a focus report the company eventually submitted on Oct. 2.

Reaction has been swift and sweeping from stakeholders who have opposed putting a pipe in the strait.

Allan MacCarthy, who fishes out of Caribou Harbour, expressed surprise with Wilson’s decision. He said he welcomes Wilson’s request for a full assessment of the pulp mill’s application, something he and other members of a fishermen’s working group requested.

“Unexpected,” MacCarthy said when asked for reaction. “That’s what we asked for in 2017. There were not enough answers, a lot of conjecture in the focus report.”

Ecojustice and Friends of the Northumberland Strait (FONS) were also quick to react to Wilson’s decision.

“We are very pleased that the minister of environment recognized that Northern Pulp has not provided the science to show that this project can be built and operated without significant harm,” said James Gunvaldsen Klaassen, a lawyer with Ecojustice.

He said he is pleased that the process will allow ongoing involvement by the public and independent scientific experts.

“Northern Pulp has twice produced unreliable and inaccurate documents, although they had five years to gather information,” FONS president Jill Graham-Scanlan added. “We believe the minister had enough evidence to reject the proposal now, but we are ready to present him with the science a third time … At the end of the day, we are confident that this project will be rejected and there will be no pipe in the Northumberland Strait.”

The working group, PLFN, the Town of Pictou and FONS jointly called on Wilson to reject the pulp mill’s plan.

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan was not available for comment before press time. However, he did respond to the federal environment department’s announcement on Monday that it would not assess the effluent treatment project.

He said he was satisfied oversight by several federal departments remained in place.

“That’s what we asked for,” he said.

Timelines for the environment assessment report gives Nova Scotia Environment up to 14 calendar days to prepare and release to the public its terms of reference, which makes it due on January 10.

There will be a 30-day period for review and public input, plus a five-day window for the department to share comments with Northern Pulp, which will have up to 21 days to respond.

The company will then have had two years to submit its environmental assessment report.

Wilson provided no response with regard to extending the life of Boat Harbour beyond its legislated closure date of January 31, 2020 except to say it “is not within my purview.”

Northern Pulp mill. (Photo by Sean Murray)