ABERCROMBIE POINT – It’s been three days Northern Pulp sent out a bulletin informing the public about a leak in an effluent pipeline.
Since then, a First Nations community has been mobilized, federal and provincial governments have been engaged and one of the county’s largest employers is at a standstill.
And while a resolution that will satisfy all parities doesn’t appear in sight yet, there have been positive developments.
That’s according to David MacKenzie, governmental affairs and communications with Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Limited, who said the effluent has stopped flowing and the pipe locked at both ends.
“We’re continuing to work towards a solution that will allow us to get back into operation,” he said.
Pumper, or sucker, trucks have been allowed on the site to collect up any standing effluent so it can be trucked to the Boat Harbour Treatment Facilities settling ponds. Environment Canada told Northern Pulp to clean it up.
“We had 15 trucks Wednesday night taking the effluent to the settling ponds and it will continue today.”
Members and supporters of Pictou Landing First Nation have set up along the road, preventing machinery from entering the site of the leak known as Indian Cross Point, an aboriginal burial ground.
“We haven’t been able to access the site to see the condition of the pipe,” said MacKenzie. “We won’t know why it happened until we can access the site.”
Attempts to reach Environment Canada and Minister Randy Delorey with Nova Scotia Environment were unsuccessful at print time.
The effluent, according to Northern Pulp, primarily consists of suspended lime, organic material from the process, wood, bark and spent chemicals used to break up lignin to access cellulose. While he couldn’t give any solid numbers as to how much effluent was spilled, they’re still looking into it.
“We’re on it. It just takes time to shut down the mill so stopping the flow took some time.”
MacKenzie doesn’t have the numbers on what it costs the mill per day of shutdown but said it isn’t cheap.
But staff at Northern Pulp are seeing the silver lining in the midst of the mill shutdown. National union representative Tom McNamara of Unifor said the 250 union members are still employed, busy and getting paid.
“People are still working,” said McNamara. “It gives the mill and workers a chance to do other work, things that might happen during a planned shutdown.”
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But a prolonged period of shutdown is in nobody’s interest. The current agreement with Northern Pulp and the union states that no employees can be laid off within a week of an unexpected mill shut down.
“There has been little talk of layoffs, and that sort of thing is up to the company. But that’s not really on our mind right now.”
It’s also business as usual with at least one of the wood and lumber firms that work with the mill.
Cathy Turple of Ledwidge Lumber Company in Enfield noted that the mill is still receiving their wood chips and Northern Pulp is still sending along round wood as per the agreement.
“We’re not feeling the effects yet,” she said. “But any length of time that the mill isn’t operational will begin to affect business.”
Looking back on that Tuesday morning, MacKenzie said he would do things differently.
“I think I could have been quicker in contacting Pictou Landing First Nation and we should have got something to them earlier.”
That morning, he said he came into work and assessed the situation. In the attempt to get a bulletin out to the public, arguably, the most important stakeholders weren’t informed. With the leak stopped and effluent being removed, communication is the lingering challenge.
“We’ve had conversations with the chief to discuss the situation and thing like that but I’m not going into details of our conversations.”
The mill’s priority is to access the site, remediate any damage, find out what went wrong and repair the break so the mill can continue operations.
“Northern Pulp will bear any and all costs associated with the cleanup of this leak,” said MacKenzie.
MacKenzie declined to comment on a replacement site for effluent or the remediation of the Boat Harbour Treatment facility stating it is a discussion between Pictou Landing First Nation and the Province of Nova Scotia.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn