Former Pictou County resident recalls the Fort Mac fire
That’s what it felt like to drive back into Fort McMurray and see the damage that the forest fire caused last year.
As discussions surrounding emissions from Northern Pulp continue to intensify outside the pulp mill, the union representative says workers on the inside are feeling frustrated.
“Certainly there’s reason for our workers to be concerned when people make statements about how we make our living,” said Unifor Local 440 representative Don MacKenzie.
“We find it very frustrating that a lot of info on the mill being told out there is based on incorrectly stated facts.”
MacKenzie, who served at the national level representing all mills in the province for 13 years, emphasized that the mill workers care about everyone’s health and that they put faith in regulations and laws of the land. David MacKenzie, a spokesman for Northern Pulp, agrees.
“It’s business as usual at the mill,” he said. “We’re still up and running and working on short-term and long-term solutions to the current situation.”
MacKenzie noted that mill workers are just as eager to get the precipitator fixed as the general public, stating the discussions shouldn’t be framed as an ‘us versus them’ debate.
Some information on an ad created by the Clean Pictou Air Group of Businesses that has circulated on the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook page and appeared in the Pictou Advocate merits clarification, according to MacKenzie.
He takes issue with a paragraph that states a $28.1 million Green Transformation Fund grant was used to convert Northern Pulp’s power boiler to wood-power generation.
“I’ve talked to people here and that boiler has always burned bark and other wood waste,” said MacKenzie. “In fact, we’ve been doing it from day one.”
He said wood waste, such as bark, sawdust and discarded wood, is bought from sawmills in the region and used as fuel in the power boiler. Funds were used to make it more efficient. It’s not the only project undertaken through the grant.
Another paragraph of concern to MacKenzie states the new electrostatic precipitator scheduled for installation in 2015 will primarily address odour and not particulate matter.
“That’s simply untrue,” he said. “We were issued a directive from Nova Scotia Environment, we submitted a plan to come to compliance and it’s specifically to reduce the amount of particulate matter.”
He said that the precipitator once installed would reduce particulate matter in emissions from 375 milligrams per cubic metre down to between 30 and 50 milligrams. Nova Scotia Environment, through their Facebook page, also posted a clarification to this effect, stating it's expected the new precipitator will bring and keep particulate emissions to well within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
The public interest in emissions has elicited a statement from the 600-member Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia, who say patience with Northern Pulp’s upgrades are needed at this time.
“Time is necessary for this project to ensure it is built properly and will allow the mill to operate safely, and employ hundreds of Nova Scotians across the province for years to come,” the statement reads.
They argue that a shutdown of the mill would affect the interconnected relationship between the landowners who sell wood, the pulp mills, the sawmills and the harvesting and trucking supply chain and be devastating.
“Forestry is a vital industry in Nova Scotia. It is a part of our past. It is a bright, green key to our future. And it is the backbone of the rural economy.”
Don MacKenzie feels part of the frustration comes from the fact that Northern Pulp weathered the storm in recent years that saw the closure of Bowater Mersey Paper Company in Brooklyn, Queens County, and NewPage Port Hawkesbury.
“(Suppliers) are definitely concerned. I ran a forestry business, I know what’s involved in logs and you need ability to get rid of pulpwood,” he said. “It’s a big part of the province’s economy and mainstay for the county.”
While the optics of Northern Pulp hitting production milestones while the precipitator is performing inefficiently aren’t good, David MacKenzie said they’re unrelated.
“They’re separate events.”
For now, work will continue at the mill and, if anything, the union representative hopes people will see the fine line that workers at the mill must walk.
“We take their concerns seriously, without a doubt. But we just wish that they were a little more knowledgeable about the actual facts and circumstances around what happens here.”
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn