PICTOU – Northern Pulp is up and running once again.
After a two-week hiatus that saw the mill shut down to deal with an effluent leak, the familiar white plume will now return to the skies of Pictou County as production ramps up.
David MacKenzie of Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation said that while investigators are still scratching their heads over what caused the leak at Indian Cross Point in Pictou Landing, some things are known.
“There appeared to be some wear on the bottom of the pipe,” he said. “It’s been brought back to the original thickness.”
While there are no plans to replace the 36-inch-wide effluent pipe that runs from Abercrombie Point, under the East River to Boat Harbour, MacKenzie noted the majority of the line was inspected.
“Robots were used on the mill side and on the other side we actually had divers investigating inside.”
The leak was fixed after crews were allowed on site once Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul and Environment Minister Randy Delorey had signed an agreement stating firm timelines on a new effluent treatment facility in return for the end of the blockade.
Pumper trucks that were contracted to suck up any effluent have all but concluded their task that began two days after the leak was discovered.
“The consultants have concluded effluent pumping and are concentrating on drilling monitoring wells and removal of solids from the wetland,” said Lori Errington of Nova Scotia Environment.
Northern Pulp said they are bearing the costs of the cleanup and pipe fix. MacKenzie noted it’s too soon to put a dollar amount on how much it, along with the nearly two-week shutdown of the mill, cost them.
“What I can say is that it’s significant,” he said. “I’m happy to report that there were no layoffs during the period of shutdown.”
In fact, Northern Pulp hired additional contractors for the cleanup and maintenance while the mill was in shutdown mode.
But for some, including members of the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook page, the restart of Northern Pulp is reason to continue pressure on the government.
Matt Gunning, one of the founders of the page said that with a nearly 4,100-member page, there will always be differences of opinion.
“People get that we move from the blockade and continue now for the proper regulations to be put in place,” he said. “In general, the mill isn’t doing a whole lot wrong but where the actual problem lies is with Nova Scotia Environment’s regulations.”
Protesters primarily from the Facebook page demonstrated and rallied for signatures on a petition outside Minister Peter MacKay’s office on Saturday, seeking a faster cleanup of the mill.
Throughout the blockade in Pictou Landing and following the signing of the agreement in principle, the Facebook page has acted as a meeting place and starting point for tangible action.
“That was our intent. This is about effecting change and the only time there has been improvement is through direct public pressure,” said Gunning.
Northern Pulp began the preparations on a new precipitator earlier this month, expecting it to be completed and reducing dust from the mill in spring 2015. MacKenzie noted that work on the foundations of the new precipitator began at Northern Pulp during the recent shutdown.
“Some tracks were removed to make room for the precipitator and six foundation piles were driven into location.”
In addition to the precipitator, MacKenzie noted that the mill is working with the government on a long-term solution for an effluent treatment facility, but there are no details at this point.
“We have to reduce the amount of water we use and we’re currently looking into ways to reduce water use. This work is in the planning stages.”
The mill’s operating permit from Nova Scotia Environment was due to expire on April 19 but was extended by the department until Jan. 30, 2015. In a Facebook post, Errington noted this was not a new approval only a change to the existing approval.
Gunning hopes the broader community may be given opportunity to voice concerns to Northern Pulp and Nova Scotia Environment.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn