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Fishermen raise concerns about mill’s new effluent treatment facility

ABERCROMBIE – Disposal of effluent from Northern Pulp’s new treatment facility into the Northumberland Strait has raised concerns among local fishermen.     

Northern Pulp

Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane said her office has been inundated with calls asking where the effluent will be released into the local waters after the new facility is up and running in 2020.

“Fishers have been calling me and saying, ‘really, when do we get to have our say?’ They have very legitimate concerns about this,” she said.  

The design of the new replacement facility is being done by consultant KSH Solutions, which is tasked with creating a comprehensive study that would include all civil, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation required for construction of a new effluent facility located within Northern Pulp’s existing mill site.

The consultant will prepare a comprehensive analysis of the effects of the proposed effluent treatment facility and outfall. This will involve consultations with specific stakeholders, including Pictou Landing First Nations and the fishing community, as well as the general public. These consultations will occur prior to, and inform, the formal registration for an environmental assessment, said Brian Taylor, media adviser for the Department of Environment.

Northern Pulp said earlier this month in a statement that the new technology will be the activated sludge treatment process involving an aeration stage and a clarification and recycle stage, which is different from the current aerated stabilization basis process, with lagoons. Once treated, effluent would be discharged into the Northumberland Strait, but since the project is still in the design stages no one is exactly sure where or how this will be done.

Ron Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association, said Friday his membership has requested a meeting with the consultants so their concerns are heard before any work is done.

“It (effluent) is treated and goes out there now,” he said – adding that new technology will no doubt make it better than the effluent now – still, fishermen’s bigger concern is how the effluent will reach the sea waters, one they want addressed.  

Heighton said there are laws under the Navigational Act that give fishers a voice if anything such as a pipeline is put into the Northumberland Strait, but they would rather work with consultants now before such laws have to be enacted.

“We are keeping a sharp eye on it,” he said, adding that if they do get to meet with designers they will make sure that the P.E.I. Fishermen Association is also at the table because they fish the same waters.

MacFarlane said she is concerned that Northern Pulp has qualified for a “faster, environmental assessment” for its new treatment plant that she believes will limit feedback from stakeholders in the community.

She said the class-one environment assessment only allows for 30 days of public feedback, which might not be enough time for input.

“The other option would have been a class two which would have been more appropriate considering the magnitude of this project,” she said.

She said the Liberal government is saying the facility being built to replace Boat Harbour by 2020 is a modification to the existing plant, when in fact it is eight miles away from the original site and will involve the construction of a new facility.

“Our fishing industry is extremely important to sustainable and economic growth. We cannot underestimate its value in providing good jobs and, more importantly, food security. We even heard the minister of finance and treasury board speak about it in her budget speech, and potentially the effluent pipe that will be installed by Northern Pulp when the new treatment facility is built will run out into the Northumberland Strait, invading our rich fishing ground,” said MacFarlane.

Minister of Environment Iain Rankin responded to MacFarlane’s comments in the legislature by saying that staff approved the class-one assessment because it is considered a modification to an existing undertaking.

“Whenever an existing industrial site makes a modification to its effluent treatment facility, that is clearly within the regulations and the Environment Act to be a modification. Therefore, it is a class-one environmental assessment,” he said.

MacFarlane questioned what action the minister has taken with his federal counterparts as well as fisheries and aquaculture to ensure that the local fishing industry is not jeopardized.

Rankin replied that the 30-day period will allow for public submissions that will be taken very seriously and will help shape the terms and conditions.

“We will get feedback from the Department of Fisheries, both provincially and federally, as well as the Department of Environment and Climate Change Canada, and we will make sure our decision is based on science and evidence.”

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