ABERCROMBIE POINT – Around a dozen workers have been coming and going from the new construction site on the west side of Northern Pulp.
Over the past few weeks, foundations have been laid, steel beams have been fabricated and work continues on the 28-foot cradle that will house the pulp mill’s new electrostatic precipitator.
So when Environment Minister Randy Delorey issued a ministerial order for the mill to reduce air quality emissions that exceed approved limits by May 30, 2015, it was business as usual for the workers.
“Northern Pulp has long been working toward a May 2015 completion date for the recovery boiler precipitator,” said mill spokesman David MacKenzie. “We believe that we will be able to meet that deadline.”
In a release on Aug 21, Premier Stephen McNeil said that the government has heard the concerns of Pictou County residents and is addressing them.
"They are voicing their concerns because they want a healthy, safe and prosperous Pictou County. We all want the same things," McNeil said. "This order makes it clear to Northern Pulp what this government expects of the company so we can clean up the air for residents and the industry can continue to prosper."
The order says the pulp mill is in violation of a term and condition of its approval, by exceeding air quality stack emissions from a recovery boiler.
"This ministerial order outlines several actions that I expect the company to complete between now and next spring," said Delorey. "This legally binding document commits Northern Pulp to cleaning up its emissions."
The directive includes eight terms and conditions, including deadlines and weekly updates on the construction of the precipitator, increased testing of the mill’s stacks and the submission of Northern Pulp’s plans to reduce emissions during the pulp mill’s annual shutdown in September.
If the precipitator isn’t completed, installed or commissioned by May 30, the directive states the minister will cancel or suspend the approval.
Mackenzie outlined the mill’s plans to achieve short-term improvements to the current issues with the plume during the upcoming maintenance shutdown in mid-September in early August.
One initiative includes the installation of a full new set of 1,200 Modo scrubber spray nozzles that will aid in an increased removal of particulate matter.
“We’re undertaking these projects because we’ve been told there’s a good chance of reducing particulate matter,” he said.
Despite assurances from the mill that projects will be undertaken, Delorey said a directive means he is now in a position to enforce options at his disposal.
“This is a line in the sand,” he said. “(Northern Pulp’s) options are now limited and they have no wiggle room.”
The minister stated that if the mill isn’t in compliance by May 30, then he has the power to cancel or suspend their operating approval. A suspension would mean a shutdown until the mill returns to compliance while the weightier cancellation means the mill would have to reapply for an industrial permit.
“It’s very clear for all parties what is expected. The other points highlight and reinforce things in the near term by including them in the order.”
MacKenzie said Northern Pulp will be incurring come costs as a result of the directive, but noted it wouldn’t be substantial.
“We’re going to be undertaking some work and there will be some costs but nothing too onerous.”
In the meantime, the mill has issued a newsletter to its employees to make them aware of all the operations taking place. For Hugh MacDougall, the senior project manager at Northern Pulp, informing those on the inside was crucial to ensure those outside the mill understand what’s happening.
“How can we expect people to understand what’s happening when some of our own mill workers don’t know,” said MacDougall. “My take is that people are wondering why the precipitator installation is taking so long. Let’s just say it’s not like replacing a furnace filter.”
With the work to be completed by at least May 30, according to law, the project is a large build for Northern Pulp. The dimensions of the new precipitator measure roughly 70 feet by 40 feet with a height of 100 feet. The inlet duct however will rise around 180 feet.
By comparison, the mill’s current precipitator, located within Northern Pulp’s facility, occupies the east section of the building, occupying floors seven to nine.
“Our current precipitator is only a quarter of the size of the new one,” said MacDougall. “Besides a field upgrade in 1999, that precipitator has been in operation since the mill opened in the 1960s.”
The precipitator will rest on a steel table 28-feet high to allow the safe passage of trains below.
While Clyde Bergemann Canada has been tapped for their expertise in precipitators, some of the work has been handled locally. Structural steel was produced in New Brunswick and Higgins and MacGregors constructed the foundational piles.
“This installation won’t just be for the benefit of the community, with the local contracts and less particulate matter,” said MacDougall. “We will benefit as well with the recovery of chemicals for reuse.”
Benefit to the community Delorey indicated was central to the directive.
“Certainly, it states that we’re showing a clear direction and a deviation from what the past number of governments took,” he said.
Department staff is working on a new industrial approval for January 2015 that will contain stricter limits on air emissions. There will be an opportunity for written public consultation this fall.
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