By Sueann Musick
PICTOU - Two important industries in Pictou County are headed for a collision and something needs to be done to stop the explosion, says the county’s warden.
Robert Parker, along with 11 other councillors from the Municipality of the County of Pictou, listened to presentations by two groups representing local fishers and the community concerned about a proposed effluent pipeline being in the Northumberland Strait.
“We need both industries in the county very much and we are looking at what we can do to keep both industries here,” he said.
Ron Heighton president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Union told council and more than 60 people in attendance about the importance of the local fishing industry in the local economy and the potential hazards of having effluent pumped in the Northumberland Strait from Northern Pulp.
He said the NFA doesn’t want the local pulp mill to close but all the modifications being made for a new on-site effluent treatment plant must be environmentally friendly. Heighton added that NFA has the support of many other fishing associations, buyers as well as similar organizations in Prince Edward Island.
“Northumberland Fishermen’s Association wants to be part of the solution with Northern Pulp,” he said.
However, it was firm in its stance that NFA has zero tolerance for any effluent pipeline in the Northumberland Strait.
“Please don’t sacrifice one industry for another,” he said.
The province announced in June 2015 that the effluent treatment facility will close in January 2020. The current treatment facility has been operating for almost 50 years and planning for the remediation of Boat Harbour is already underway. This means a new effluent treatment plant must be ready in the same time frame.
Heighton asked that council support its call for a full environmental class two assessment that would take close to year to complete rather than the current class one assessment approved by the province that gives the public 30 days to comment once the project is formally registered.
The association is not only concerned about a proposed pipeline pumping out effluent into its fishing grounds. Heighton said the mixture of fresh water with salt water can be deadly and create a dead zone in the Strait .
A motion was put forward in support of a full environmental report. Some councillors had concerns that council was rushing its decision.
“I want to hear both sides,” said Coun. Debbi Wadden. “I want to hear from Northern Pulp.”
Both Wadden and Coun. Andy Thompson made the point of stating they are not favouring one side over the other despite some comments on social media.
Coun. Ron Ballie said supporting a full assessment doesn’t mean council is putting the importance of industry over another. He said he fears if council waits to long to support a full assessment, it may be too late to have any influence on the decision.
“We still want to hear from everyone. We still want a full environment assessment,” he said.
Council agreed in a vote of 10 to 2 to send a letter of support for a full assessment, but amended it after hearing more information from Jill Scanlan of the Friends of the Northumberland Strait group.
Scanlan asked council to send its support for a full assessment report that would include information from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as the province’s Department of Environment.
“It is not automatic that the DFO is involved in this process,” she said. “DFO has fishery specialists and expertise and is responsible to protect fisheries and the environment.”
Similar to NFA, Scanlan said the Friends group believes a closed loop effluent treatment system at the mill is the right answer. It would be done at an increased cost for Northern Pulp but one that would prove and strengthen its commitment to the community, she added.
(Northern Pulp and an expert in the industry have previously said that a closed loop system is not possible at the mill.)
She also asked council to adopt a position that it will not support any effluent treatment that puts fisheries, other industries or communities at risk, but council wanted clarification on a few issues raised during the special meeting, including clarifying the federal government’s role as well as hearing from all parities involved, including Northern Pulp.
“In fairness to the everyone in the county we have to hear from everyone out there first before we can come down on side or there other,” said Parker.
In response to questions from The News, Kathy Cloutier, Communications Director for Paper Excellence which owns the mill, stated that they were unable to attend the meeting because NPNS ETF project team members are providing updates on the project to their employees in evening sessions that began Monday and will continue into Wednesday.
She stated that it is not Northern Pulp that requests a specific classification under the Environment Assessment Act.
“The regulations within the Act are very clear and as such, Nova Scotia Environment has deemed the effluent treatment facility replacement project is a Class 1 project as it is a modification to an existing system,” she said.
Regardless of whether the project is a Class 1 or Class 2, it is only after public and stakeholder consultation is carried out complete with concerns addressed, permitting and any additional studies that may be required, that this project can be officially registered with a submitted Environmental Impact Assessment, she said
“Extensive public, stakeholder consultation and scientific information gathering to form the EIA has begun and will continue into next spring.
Northern Pulp will be holding public meetings in New Glasgow on Dec. 5 and Abercrombie on Dec. 6.
“It is during these PIC (Public Information Centre) sessions that the project and the science used to inform the project will be presented.”
She said that Northern Pulp would like the opportunity to present the project design, including diffused outfall, before groups and individuals take a stance on the project.
Northern Pulp expects to register the project Environmental Impact Assessment in spring 2018.