Counter – Counter Point: Context needed concerning Northern Pulp letter


I feel compelled to respond to Jill Graham-Scanlan’s criticism of my letter of September 1 where I argue for making a modernized Northern Pulp, without using Boat Harbour, a positive part of Premier MacNeil’s legacy.

I understand Ms. Graham-Scanlan doesn’t like Northern Pulp and doesn’t seem to want it to operate again. I can even respect the position that any industrial activity, because of its scale, may be inherently undesirable and perhaps we should all just go back to the days of little farms, little businesses, and very little trade between nations. Although I’m sure most of us would yearn for a simpler time, we still demand some of the necessities that make living today bearable. One of those products is toilet paper. Northern Pulp’s product made toilet paper. Not a glamourous product, but as the early days of the pandemic showed the world, a necessary product in high demand.

Graham-Scanlan made five points that warrant a response and some context.

1. “Government did not change the goalposts requiring 68 studies instead of 7 — Northern Pulp did” Really? I am sure that will be news to Northern Pulp. It was the NS Department of Environment that demanded all sorts of additional, peripheral studies be completed by Northern Pulp at the request of groups like Friends of Northumberland Strait (FONS) for whom she speaks.

2. “Walker (Dalhousie Professor) study showed Boat Harbour worked and the Northern Pulp proposal doesn’t include an equivalent to Boat Harbour.” It’s hard to grasp that Ms. Graham-Scanlan might actually believe the Northern Pulp proposal doesn’t include an Effluent Treatment Facility (ETF) that is an equivalent to Boat Harbour. A new, modern ETF is the central element of the Northern Pulp proposal. For years, she has advocated for the closing of Boat Harbour and now seems to lament the loss of Boat Harbour as an ETF. Meanwhile she underplays, instead of celebrating, the central finding of the Dalhousie study that showed no negative impacts on the fisheries in the Northumberland Strait while the mill was operating for 53 years directly connected to that Strait.

3. “… only 20-30 kraft pulp mills operating in Canada, not 89, and they don’t release millions of gallons of effluent directly into fishery areas”. This criticism is actually very misleading and just wrong. There are 88 pulp and paper mills operating in Canada of which about 30 produce kraft pulp. All the mills release “treated” effluent into adjacent waters. Even in British Columbia, where environmental activism is legendary, there are 18 pulp and paper mills operating adjacent to commercial fishing activity. The simple truth is that treated effluent discharged properly is benign on the receiving environment and no amount of scaremongering changes that.

4. “… no plan to modernize the mill in the proposal.” Perhaps, a brand-new land-based ETF system costing more than $130 million and replacing the 50-year old Boat Harbour system isn’t a modernization to Ms. Graham-Scanlan. It is to me.

5. “… doesn’t include the full chemical composition of the effluent they plan to discharge.” Ms. Graham-Scanlan knows Northern Pulp provided a full chemical composition of their effluent in the Environmental Assessment, well above and beyond what is required of any other operating mill in Canada. Northern Pulp will treat effluent to meet all the federal and provincial regulations regarding any allowable chemical limits. Ms. Graham-Scanlan is asking for something she knows can’t be produced in advance. It would be like asking Ms. Graham-Scanlan for the DNA profile and chemical composition of next season’s lobsters caught in the Strait. It’s not possible and she knows it.

Finally, and on a positive note, it is clear that Ms. Graham-Scanlan cares deeply about the Strait and the welfare of Pictou County. I encourage her to work with the new, diverse environmental committee being formed to see if there is a path forward for a mill in Pictou County. As an owner of a sawmill in central Nova Scotia, I can tell you the broader forestry industry really misses having Northern Pulp operating and if there is a workable, acceptable path forward all of us should contribute to identifying it. Ms Graham-Scanlan should accept the invitation to join the committee and put her energy and important perspective towards a better future for all.

Robin Wilber is president, Elmsdale Lumber Company