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Two federal ministers offer differing statements on Northern Pulp

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, right, chats with Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor at a meeting about the Atlantic Growth Strategy in Summerside on Tuesday.
Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, right, chats with Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor at a meeting about the Atlantic Growth Strategy in Summerside on Tuesday. - Stu Neatby

SUMMERSIDE

Two federal ministers have offered contrasting statements on whether a federal environmental assessment is warranted for a pipe that would pump effluent into the Northumberland Straight.

The Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, N.S. ignited a storm of controversy after proposing to pump 70 million litres of treated effluent per day into the Northumberland Straight. The effluent had previously been treated at a lagoon next to First Nation land in nearby Boat Harbour. The Nova Scotia government has ordered this facility closed by 2020 due to pollution concerns.

A rally last week drew hundreds to Pictou, including a number of fishers and members of P.E.I.’s Lennox Island First Nation. Opponents of the pipe have called for a federal environmental assessment to be carried out, claiming these assessments are more rigorous.

On Tuesday in Summerside, following a meeting with Atlantic Premiers focused on the Atlantic Growth Strategy, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Daniel LeBlanc stated that the responsibility for conducting the environmental assessment of the project should fall to the Nova Scotia government.

"It's a situation that is in the hands of the minister of the Environment of the province of Nova Scotia,” LeBlanc said.

"The government of Nova Scotia is entirely competent to do that work. We will collaborate with them, partner with them, share scientific information and have every reason to think that their process will be robust and appropriate."

LeBlanc also stated that he did not speak for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which conducts federal environmental assessments.

On the same day, during an announcement in Dartmouth, N.S., federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna stated that she would not rule out the federal government conducting an environmental impact assessment.

"We're certainly watching this closely," McKenna told CBC news.

"We will be assessing it once we have the final proposal from the proponent."

Final details of the treatment facility for the mill have not yet been released. Northern Pulp was forced to alter the route of the proposed pipe after sonar imaging revealed a shipwreck along the pipe’s path.

The debate over whether Nova Scotia or the federal government should conduct the environmental assessment has drawn in P.E.I.’s premier.

On Tuesday, Wade MacLauchlan stated his preference was for a federal assessment. He said he had heard concerns with the Northern Pulp proposal from Island fishermen, First Nations people and tourism operators.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, also present at Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledged the concerns of Islanders and of Nova Scotian fishermen. He said his government was focused on both protecting jobs at the Northern Pulp mill and avoiding environmental harm.

"It is not our government's intention, nor will it be an act that we are moving Boat Harbour from one place to another. This will be based on science," McNeil said.

"At this point this is the responsibility of the Department of Environment in Nova Scotia."

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