HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has rejected a pulp mill’s plea for a deadline extension that would have allowed it to continue dumping wastewater near a First Nation after Jan. 31.
Owners of the Northern Pulp mill near Pictou, N.S., have said a government refusal of their request would lead to the facility’s closure and the elimination of 300 jobs at the mill and an estimated 2,400 more in the forestry sector.
An emotional McNeil told a news conference that the mill has been given ample time to clean up its act and stop dumping effluent into the Boat Harbour lagoon near the Pictou Landing First Nation.
“The company has had 5 years and a number of opportunities to get out of Boat Harbour, and to this point we aren’t even close to doing that,” he said. “The company has put us all in a very difficult position.”
He said the Jan. 31 deadline contained in legislation passed in 2015 would be enforced: “Northern Pulp will be ordered to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour, and let me be clear, there will be no extension.”
McNeil announced a $50-million transition fund to help affected workers in the forestry sector across the province.
“I know this could not have come at a worse time for you, but the company has failed to respect the timelines given to them five years ago,” he said. “To those workers and their families, please don’t despair. Our government will help and support you in this transition.”
The company, owned by B.C.-based Paper Excellence, had submitted plans to build a pipeline to pump 85 million litres of treated effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait instead of the lagoons near the Pictou Landing First Nation.
But the government has twice told the company it failed to provide enough information to allow for a proper assessment of the plan’s impact on human health and the environment.
On Thursday, the mill owners repeated their warning that the operation would be shut down unless the deadline is extended and the mill is allowed to keep pumping effluent into Boat Harbour.
Former Nova Scotia environment minister Iain Rankin has referred to the toxic mess in the lagoons as one of the worst cases of environmental racism in Canada.
The company issued a statement earlier this year, bluntly stating: “No pipe equals no mill.” In response, McNeil had said: “The deadline is the deadline.”
Fishermen in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick say the pipeline will hurt the local lobster fishery, as well as other smaller fishing enterprises.
Some residents in nearby Pictou, who have long complained about the mill’s recurring stench, have said the pipeline could hurt tourism along the picturesque strait between Nova Scotia and P.E.I.
Paper Excellence says it has run out of options, noting that 80 per cent of the kraft pulp mills in North American use a lagoon system similar to the one at Boat Harbour — and the other 20 per cent use a facility like the one in its latest proposal.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2019.
The Canadian Press