Still hope for a solution (Part 2)

Opinion

Further to my article printed in The Advocate January 1, 2020 edition, the economic situation in Nova Scotia has deteriorated significantly since the December 20, 2019 announcement that NP would receive no extension to use the Boat Harbour for its effluent after January 31, 2020. Thousands of mill and forestry workers, as well as many, many Nova Scotia business employees have received or will receive shortly, layoff notices: the price for pulpwood and the price paid for stumpage for 32000 woodlot owners and the Crown have been greatly reduced if, in fact, a market will exist for their wood going forward; the Lahey Report is dead without silvaculture being undertaken in future.

The Forestry sector in Eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, which is currently supplying Port Hawkesbury Paper (PHP), will also be negatively impacted because of the glut of wood available and the low prices. The only winner in this situation is Mr. Stern (Stern Partners) and PHP because at the time he purchased PHP he got $1.1 billion in tax losses. So while thousands will be paying less in future income taxes, PHP will not pay any Nova Scotia income taxes for years to come. There will be bankruptcies, significant banking loan losses and great hardship created from Pleasant Bay to Yarmouth. The $50 million transition fund will be a drop in the bucket to what is needed. I doubt if there is one person affected by the closure of NP, whether directly or indirectly, that wants to take advantage of this $50 million transition fund but it may prove to be useful in another way.

While the flow of effluent from NP will soon stop, it will be years before the site is cleaned up. Work on the site has been discontinued since the federal government has announced an environmental assessment on Boat Harbour which is estimated to take at least two years. If all goes well it is estimated that it will take a further 8-10 years to complete the cleanup at a cost of approximately $220 million.

Why did the parties end up in this position? There certainly has been a communication disconnect between all the parties throughout this whole process.

Boat Harbour is going to be cleaned up and there will be no extension of the Boat Harbour Act. These are facts. But the key question is, “Is there an opportunity for Go Forward Business Agreements to be achieved between all three parties?”

I believe there may be a way to achieve everyone’s objectives — to clean up Boat Harbour, keep the mill running, stabilize the forestry industry in Nova Scotia, be environmentally sustainable and protect the financial stability of PNS. But action must be taken and finalized on or before January 31, 2020.

The plan calls for 11 action steps:

STEP #1 — Each of PLFN, PNS and NP would name an independent person to join a “Coordination / Monitoring Committee” (the Team). The team would appoint a fourth independent person as chair. The team would independently manage the completion and finalization of this plan on or before January 31, 2020.

STEP #2 — The team would meet with the Band Council and the PLFN community who would consider entering into an agreement to allow NP to continue to pipe its effluent into Boat Harbour after January 31, 2020. As consideration for this agreement with NP, PLFN would approve entering into a separate agreement with PNS to utilize a portion of the Transition Fund to benefit the PLFN community directly.

While the closing of Boat Harbour is a good legacy achievement, an agreement to allow for all the children of PLFN and their children’s children to get their education paid for out of the Transition Fund along with the opportunity for PLFN to get needed infrastructure done would certainly achieve a very enhanced legacy.

STEP #3 — The maximum timeline that would be requested would be five years to January 31, 2025 broken down with definitive deadlines as follows: The environmental studies and formal approval are expected to take 24 months. To be safe, allow 30 months to July 31, 2022.The construction of the new treatment facility is expected to take 24 months. To be safe allow 30 months for testing to January 31, 2025.

STEP #4 — If any of the above deadlines are not achieved the agreement between PLFN and NP would be null and void but the agreement with PNS remains permanently in place. The above noted timeline of a maximum of five years is well within the actual timeline now in place of 10 to 12 years for the cleanup of Boat Harbour and should not extend the cleanup period.

STEP #5 — The PLFN Band Council will make a decision based on input from the community. If the answer is “No” to the proposal then this is the end of the discussions and PLFN gets the closure of Boat Harbour but nothing else. If the answer is “Yes” to the proposal then we move on to the next six steps.

STEP #6 — The team and the PLFN Council will meet in Pictou Landing with Premier Stephen McNeil, Tim Houston and Gary Burrill to allow them to get a first hand look at the community, listen to the concerns for infrastructure and education funds and to participate in getting a broad agreement. The reason for including these three MLAs in the meeting is that one of them will be premier after the next election and PLFN will want to ensure that there is broad acknowledgement to an agreement by all three parties and to ensure that there will not be any changes to the agreement if there is a change in government.

STEP #7 — With a broad agreement in place, the premier and his cabinet will finalize their participation. The team and PLFN will be available to negotiate any changes proposed. Once cabinet has approved the agreement, the Legislature will be called back to approve the agreement reached.

STEP #8 — The PNS Department of Environment must immediately identify exactly what it requires NP to complete in order to get their environmental approval for construction of their new treatment facility including outflow and to make it broad enough so that the Feds don’t step in later to override it. There cannot be additional changes as the process is undertaken.

STEP #9 — NP must document immediately that the new proposed treatment facility will meet current environmental regulations issued by the federal and provincial Departments of Environments. If additional treatment is required, NP must plan on how it is going to achieve those levels. Previous suggestions have included cells being constructed in the Hwy 106 triangle.

STEP #10 — NP must identify a new route for the pipe carrying the treated effluent to Pictou Harbour. There are three rivers flowing into Pictou Harbour: East River, Middle River and West River. As the Middle River is the source of clean water into the mill to be used in the manufacturing process, the East River (preferred route) and the West River are the options that must be selected and approved by government as soon as possible.

STEP 11 — Over the next month the team will meet separately with each party and with all three groups as required.

In today’s world of climate change, the sustainability of the environment is extremely important while at the same time we require economic development to maintain our standard of living. In the case of NP, I believe that good forestry practices (the Lahey Report), environmental sustainability and technology used in industry can coexist. This is the challenge that hopefully can become a made in Nova Scotia solution.

Ira MacInnis

(a former long time resident of Pictou County now living in Halifax)