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Fishermen and Northern Pulp at an impasse

Northern Pulp has been fined for exceeding the amount of particulate matter allowed from its power boiler.
Northern Pulp has been fined for exceeding the amount of particulate matter allowed from its power boiler. - file photo

Fishermen in Atlantic Canada say they will not accept an effluent pipe going into the Northumberland Strait.

Managers of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County say they cannot continue without it.

Ronnie Heighton, President of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association confirmed on Monday that they will no longer meet with representatives of Northern Pulp unless the company changes its plans to put an effluent pipe into the Northumberland Strait.

“There was nothing more to gain,” Heighton said. “They weren’t changing their minds. They weren’t willing to look at the alternatives.”

He said the fishermen associations have done research and believe it would be possible to change the mill to produce another type of product that wouldn’t require the effluent discharge. “It’s costly, but it’s possible,” he said.

Northern Pulp representatives however disagree saying that it is not possible to produce bleached kraft pulp without an effluent discharge and that any other alternative wouldn’t be economically feasible.

Kathy Cloutier, communications director for Paper Excellence Canada, said that at the request of people in the fishing and general community they did have a market study conducted to see if it would be reasonable to switch from a bleached kraft mill to another type.

“It was conducted by a third party, which shows that absolutely that it would not be in our interest or any company’s interest to switch from a kraft pulp mill to another type,” she said.

The Northern Pulp mill currently produces what is known as northern bleached softwood kraft which is considered a high-quality specialty product because of the long fibers from trees in this region. Demand for this type or product is growing and is expected to continue to grow for the next 10 years.

The same cannot be said for the alternative pulp products.

There are two types of alternative pulp that were studied including unbleached kraft pulp which would cut out the bleaching process and bleached chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp.

The studies showed that while the Pictou County mill could produce unbleached kraft pulp which is used in the “brown” packaging sector, the global demand is not as strong and that if Northern Pulp were to try to compete in the sector it would have to “gain market share from very low cost existing producers in Chile and Russia.”

The Pictou County mill would be disadvantaged by high wood costs compared to those regions.

As far as bleached chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp is concerned, the study showed that the Pictou County mill currently doesn’t have the equipment needed to produce it. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase and install equipment.

Terri Fraser, technical manager for the mill, explained that this process also uses a high amount of electricity and it would be hard for Northern Pulp to compete with other provinces, which have cheaper power rates, so if Paper Excellence was going to spend the money to essentially create a new mill it most likely wouldn’t be in Pictou County.

In addition, Paper Excellence Canada already has a bleached chemi-thermo-mechanical pulp mill that is currently sitting idle in British Columbia because of weak market conditions for the product. Cloutier pointed out that British Columbia also has cheaper electricity rates than Nova Scotia.

She said she’s disappointed that the fishers don't want to take part in any more meetings, but said the company will continue to extend an invitation to them to participate in the process. She however doesn’t foresee a plan that would eliminate the need for a discharge pipe like they’ve used for the last 50 years.

“As outlined during our series of meetings with fishers which began in December, Northern Pulp has thoroughly investigated treatment options available to bleached kraft mills,” she said. “Technical options available must include an outfall discharge in order for Northern Pulp to operate. The bottom line is no pipe equals no mill.”

Heighton is just as firm in his opinion.

“We’re adamant,” he said. “It’s not going to go ahead.”

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