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Mill's planned effluent pipe is 'not going in' to the Northumberland Strait – local fisherman

Allan MacCarthy at the Northumberland Fisheries Museum on Saturday.
Allan MacCarthy at the Northumberland Fisheries Museum on Saturday. - Fram Dinshaw

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - Hefty catches of crabs, lobsters and scallops are the backbone of Allan MacCarthy’s livelihood.

But MacCarthy fears Northern Pulp’s planned effluent pipe into the Northumberland Strait could be the death knell for local fisheries.

Many others shared his fears, as more than 100 people crammed into the Northumberland Fisheries Museum where local author and journalist Joan Baxter discussed the mill’s contentious history, as outlined in her book The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest.

“Not one fisherman will accept it and as far as we’re concerned, it’s not going in,” MacCarthy told The News.

He said that hot water treated using chemicals from the mill will kill fish, as well as encourage the growth of algae, which will deprive marine life of oxygen, causing further losses to fishermen.

Northern Pulp said Friday that a new waste treatment facility must be installed by 2020 to replace the polluted Boat Harbour lagoon.

Mill spokesperson Kathy Cloutier said the new waste pipe will properly treat waste and use a diffuser to safely disperse effluent, minimizing the impact on fishing areas.

But MacCarthy said that mills in British Columbia that used similar waste pipes often have no-fishing zones around them.

He added that chemicals like chlorine dioxide can build up in the fatty tissue of fish, which can then be eaten by humans, endangering the food chain.

Given these and other concerns, a steady stream of people signed letters to both provincial Environment Minister Iain Rankin and his federal counterpart Catherine McKenna.

The provincial petition asked Rankin to reject Northern Pulp’s new treatment system, saying it will pump 70 to 90 million litres of treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait every day. The letter to McKenna called for a more rigorous federal environmental assessment.   

When asked what he would say to Northern Pulp if he had the chance, MacCarthy’s answer was simple.

“Change the plan. Come up with a new plan.”

Joan Baxter, discussing the history of Northern Pulp in Pictou County.

Baxter said that in 1995, the province signed an indemnity agreement with the mill which puts Nova Scotians on the hook for everything to do with the pulp mill effluent. This was signed under the Liberal government of the late John Savage. Then in 2002, the lease for the use Boat Harbour for the mill's effluent was extended until 2030. This was done under the Progressive Conservative government of Premier John Hamm. She pointed out that Hamm is now the mill’s board chair.

“I think that it’s unconscionable that a former premier is chair of the board, who actually signed agreements that still affects us with that mill,” said Baxter.

The present Liberal government estimates that cleaning up Boat Harbour will cost the province $133 million, a projected price tag that has steadily risen over the years. Baxter said the cost may climb even higher.

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