Pictou business unable to clear the air after meeting with mill

Northern Pulp admits ‘rapid precipitator deterioration’ but says temporary shut down would close mill permanently

Published on July 30, 2014
An engineer’s interpretation of what the new recovery boiler precipitator for Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation will resemble once constructed by spring 2015. The approximately $25 million project will replace the pulp mills aging precipitator, which was constructed when the mill was built in 1967. Foundations for the project should begin by the end of the week. SUBMITTED

PICTOU – Braeside Inn Owner Anne Emmett, a member of the Clean Pictou Air group, says residents and businesses in Pictou County aren’t breathing any easier following a meeting with David Kerr and David MacKenzie of Northern Pulp for an hour at the Braeside Inn on July 29.

“[Kerr] didn’t have an explanation for why there’s a significant increase in the density of the thick, dense smog that envelopes Pictou on a daily basis,” she said. “For me that’s disturbing and I have to question their technical ability.”

However, Northern Pulp noted that specialists have been consulted for expert advice on the aged precipitator performance and another is scheduled to visit next week.

Northern Pulp said they understand the public’s frustration with emissions from the mill but to shut down the mill until a new precipitator is installed would result in the permanent closure of the Pictou County business.

While Kerr, vice president of operations, spoke at length during the meeting with the Clean Pictou Air group about the difficulties with the current precipitator and the planned replacement scheduled for May 2015, it was indicated that work is being done to optimize operations.

“The current Recovery Boiler electrostatic precipitator is aged and reaching the end of its useful life and Northern Pulp is in the process of replacing it,” read an email to The News. “Until recently the precipitator met all regulatory limits but its efficiency has deteriorated more rapidly than initially expected.”

It’s this deterioration and subsequent poor air quality, among other things, that led the Clean Pictou Air Group of Businesses to meet with the mill.

Pictou County business authority Paul Sobey lashed out at Northern Pulp Mill over the smell to the CBC on Tuesday. Northern Pulp acknowledged his comments and though they recognized his contributions to the county, they disputed his opinion.

“We respect Mr. Sobeys opinions however we have a different view,” the email read.

The existing precipitator was constructed when the Mill was built in 1967 with modifications to it through the years as production increased. The existing precipitator has reached its limit for dust removal and this new precipitator is being built to replace it. While MacKenzie predicts the new precipitator will be in operation by spring of 2015, the impact of closing the mill until that time would be economically disastrous.

“Shutting down operations at the mill and waiting for the new precipitator is not an option,” read the email. “If we were to shut down we would lose our employees, our raw materials suppliers, customers and the mill would not reopen.”

Emmett indicated the Clean Pictou Air Group was hoping that Northern Pulp could offer a short-term solution and were clearly disappointed by Kerr’s inability to address community health and economic concerns. 

Matt Gunning of the Clean The Mill website and Clean Up The Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook Page, also present for the meeting, said the group was given two options from Kerr:  wait until May 2015 or the mill will have to close permanently.

“The mill had nothing to offer other than suck it up or we’re out of here,” Gunning said. “The outdated and malfunctioning and improper filtration equipment is taking a toll on people’s health and eroding confidence in government and the mill.”

For Gunning, it appeared as if the message that Northern Pulp must clean up its act because attracting more business and people to the county was impossible fell on deaf ears. 

“It’s an unhealthy business environment.”

Northern Pulp indicated that they are working with the supplier to accelerate the delivery of the new precipitator for installation in February or March rather than May.

“This is a bad situation for all employees at Northern Pulp,” read the email. “And all employees here at the Mill are working together to find a solution in the short term and prepare for the installation of the new precipitator in 2015.”

The total project value is between $22 and $25 million and the province is pitching in a $9.5 million repayable loan and $2.5 million forgivable loan.

At a meeting between the Clean Pictou Air Group and Nova Scotia’s Ministers of Health and Wellness, Economic and Rural Development and Tourism, and Environment on July 16, the group asked for a response from government regarding issues with Northern Pulp within 15 days. This Thursday and Friday mark the end of 15 day period

Lori Errington, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Environment noted that there was not a firm commitment from government as to the 15-day period, but that the ministers are looking at the relevant data and research. A response is currently being worked on.


On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn