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GUEST COLUMN: Forestry and Plan B for Nova Scotia

By Don Wilson

Recently, I’ve read in several print and online media about what drastic things would happen if Northern Pulp were to close the very old polluting pulp mill at Abercrombie Point. 

The authors dwell on job loss at the mill and log loss to sawmills, plus loss of forestry jobs. They haven'’ been paying attention to what is currently happening and what plans are already being put in place should the pulp mill close. 

Owners and harvesters of trees on private woodlots have been planning change for several months. The Cape Breton Privateland Partnership (CBPP) is a partnership of several private woodland forest managers and producers/woodlot owners that adhere to ecological forest management methods. A proposal is under development to purchase the former Finewood Flooring facility. Some funding is in place from DNR/NSL&F and ECBC. 

This would eliminate the need to sell logs to NSP’s biomass generation plant at Port Hawkesbury and to the PHP paper plant.  Other markets would be developed as logs are turned into many products, including sawn lumber for domestic and export markets. Sustainable management is key to the future of forestry. Managed forests gradually increase tree inventory and store more carbon in each succeeding years.

Elsewhere, in central Nova Scotia there is a plan underway that would see woodlot owners, harvesters and managers come together with sawmill operators to sustainably harvest logs/studwood. Saw logs will still be available for purchase by existing sawmills. No need for a pulp mill to be in the middle of those transactions. The Sustainable Forest Products can co-ordinate the sale of logs as well as many other products for domestic consumption and export. It will work with current sawmills and will add county sawmills as necessary to create sawn lumber. Other products will be made from the sawn lumber, such as fencing sections, pallets, crating, flooring,  rafters and manufactured beams for barns and other buildings. 

The recent re-opening of a very efficient biomass co-gen heating plant by the Bible Hill campus of Dalhousie University is an example of using dry wood chips that may be left from those sawmills that can’t use all the waste in their own co-gen plants. Large buildings, such as apartment buildings, government buildings, schools and other universities, can install similar efficient plants and reduce the purchase of a fossil fuel from an out-of-province source. A  recently announced program by the federal government creates some funding for municipal area heating and energy plants. 

There is already a good market for sawdust and shavings in the province. The Shaw pellet plant is one that could ramp up production for the export market. Efficient insulation is made by chopping up waste styrofoam and mixing it with sawdust and lime. Fiberglass pink insulation loses efficiency when temperatures are cold or very hot (two of our seasons). Sawdust mix and chopped paper waste insulations maintain efficiency much better. Sawdust and shavings plus lime added to municipal compost makes a better product than does mixing with cement kiln dust.  

An OSB manufacturing plant could be added in the province. Fuel wood can be used for all necessary drying. 

These uses for wood chips and bark replaces the current use of wet wood and bark in the very old inefficient furnaces at the pulp mills and NSP’s two plants in N.S. Wet wood burning is not efficient nor “green.” Just ask anyone that has tried to burn water and/or wet wood. All fuel wood must contain less than 20 percent moisture – more than that and the emissions are as bad as most coal. Our climate requires we get off burning coal and especially petcoke ASAP.   

Some fuel wood would be coming from forest thinning operations and power line tree and bush clearing. Construction site waste wood has many uses.

Jobs: All of the foregoing results lead to increased employment in N.S.  Currently, the Michelin plant is hiring and several other company expansions can absorb all the Pulp Mill employees that want to continue working. Some will retire and hope the pension fund has been adequately funded. A 2012 report indicated it was millions away from adequate funding. What has your government done about that?     

Others can go to NSCC for training for  new economy jobs – mainly in renewables. Some can seek work on the extensive multi-year road reconstruction of Highway 104 east of New Glasgow. Trucking of logs will continue as much as today. Trucking of forest products will likely increase and trucking on the Hwy. 104 reconstruction will increase for the length of the work.

Change always brings with it more jobs. Not always the same jobs. There is opportunity for some to use un-used farmland for growing hemp – the seed oil is in demand and the biomass can be made into paper, insulation, mulch or fuel.

Tear down and cleanup of the mill buildings and site is a multi-year affair,  making jobs and trucking/machine operation work. 

We anticipate a new conifer sawmill at Westville, complete with a Co-gen plant, to power the two sawmills and dry the sawn lumber .     

Many forest lots can take advantage of eco-tourism – especially from European visitors – as they already have trails. Add some “bunkies’  or tenting spaces or good, used RV trailers.  Advertise on Air BnB. Model forests are attractive in all seasons. 

The Town of Pictou and surrounding areas will finally be free of air and water pollution, resulting in an increase of area residents (for the past six years the town population has receded). Tourism will certainly increase due to more overnight stays. The North Shore trail starts at the Pictou Marina. Residential health will certainly improve. The very valuable local fishery will be preserved. 

The next five years will be exciting for the area economy. The rest of N.S. taxpayers will see an end to subsidies in one form or another for the pulp mill.

I can't take credit for the proposed changes written about above. Many people have spoken to me offering ideas and support . Many will help make the changes to and for forestry. Many, if not most, Nova Scotians are ready for change. The proposals above make economic sense.   

Supporting an old polluting pulp mill makes no sense for Nova Scotia. This is a pay now or pay more later situation.   

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