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Lack of public consultation ahead of Northern Pulp’s submission of Environmental assessment sparks backlash

An aerial view of the Town of Pictou, with the Northern Pulp mill across the harbour.
August 21, 2014.
An aerial view of the Town of Pictou, with the Northern Pulp mill across the harbour. August 21, 2014. - Christian Laforce

Pictou 

Northern Pulp’s decision not to hold public consultations before filing its environmental assessment has received blowback from groups representing Northumberland fishermen. 

In a statement issued from Friends of the Northumberland Strait, the group decries the company’s decision, stating that, "Concerned citizens and fishermen say they are appalled that Northern Pulp does not plan to hold any open houses or public consultation before filing for environmental assessment.” 

The statement emphasizes Northern Pulp’s past promise to hold further open house events designed to keep the public up to date on the company’s plan. 

“We were told Northern Pulp were wanting to be transparent during this process,” said Friends of the Northumberland Strait president Jill Graham-Scalan in an interview. “They had promised us during that time that as the studies they were conducting on the route and the receiving waters were completed that they would be making those studies available to the public.” 

An addendum to Northern Pulp’s water receiving study was posted after the press release, but Graham-Scalan says that this is not the level of transparency that was promised form the company back in December 2017. 

With the company’s environmental assessment being submitted at the end of January, Graham-Scalan says that it could be difficult to properly analyze the information and provide feedback. 

“Not only do we have to read it, we have to absorb and reply to it,” she said. “That 30-day period is the only period of time that the public has to come up to speed on the proposal and respond to the province in a way that is complete.” 

Northern Pulp has cited ‘significant’ delays and a need to move forward under an impending deadline as it’s reason for filing the assessment without holding the open houses. 

“We’ve experienced a significant number of delays through the fall in attempting to get some of the information compiled,” said Northern Pulp director of communications, Kathy Cloutier. “We’re at a point now where we want the project to move forward.” 

Cloutier added that the blockades Pictou Harbour by strait fishermen of the company’s survey boat was a major factor in the need to push ahead to make up for the lost time. 

When asked if the incomplete survey of the sea-floor will impact the quality of environmental data submitted to the province, Cloutier said that the only gaps will have to do with the pipe’s construction.  

“There may be some constructability gaps, but the environmental assessment will be a complete document.” 

“Another major factor to delays is the number of studies and expanded studies that were done,” said Cloutier. “When the process began there were seven studies that we were aware that we’d need to submit for an environmental assessment. Since then we’ve moved from seven to 17, to 20, we’re now at 28.” 

The validity of that data revealed in those studies will then be determined by the provincial assessment. 

After Jan 31. Cloutier says that that information will be in the hands of the public and the provincial government. 

“I can’t speak to a government process, but what I can say is that there will be time for people to submit comment, and that will help the minister.” 

The statement issued by Friends of the Northumberland Strait remains skeptical that Northern Pulp’s assessment will accurately measure the outfall’s effect on marine life in the strait.  

“Knowing the composition of the treated effluent they plan to release is critical,” wrote president of the Northumberland Fishing association Carl Allen. “We’ve asked for this information for almost a year, and have never received it. If the effluent is as harmless as Northern Pulp tells the public, why haven’t they provided the information?”

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