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The company behind a beleaguered mill in northern Nova Scotia is proposing a “complete transformation” of its operations in an effort to reopen the idled kraft pulp plant.

The plan to restart the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corp. mill involves releasing treated waste water into Pictou harbour, which opens to the lobster fishing grounds of the Northumberland Strait.

Mill owner Paper Excellence said its $350-million transformation plan would cut water use by nearly half, reduce waste water components by 75 per cent, lower visible plumes above the mill by 70 per cent and remove detectable odours during normal operations.

The plant, which once employed about 300 people, was mothballed in January 2020 after the province banned Northern Pulp from dumping effluent near the Pictou Landing First Nation.

Pictou Mayor Jim Ryan questioned why it took so long for the company to propose cleaning up the mill’s environmental footprint.

“As far as I’m concerned, they burned one too many bridges,” he said. “There would be very little tolerance for any of the effluent – treated or untreated – to go directly into the harbour.”

The mayor of the picturesque tourist town added that locals have been “overwhelmingly pleased” with the improved air quality since the mill was mothballed 18 months ago.

The mill has long been a source of tension in Pictou County, with the economic benefit of hundreds of rural forestry jobs pitted against the impact of decades of pollution.

The union representing laid off forestry workers welcomed the proposal to restart the plant.

“We hope Northern Pulp’s plan to transform the mill into one of the world’s cleanest will meet Nova Scotia’s environmental standards so workers can get back to their good jobs that are vital to the province’s forestry sector,” Jerry Dias, Unifor national president, said in a statement.

The mayor of Pictou acknowledged that the economic impact of losing the mill is a real concern, but he said the benefit of jobs must be weighed against people’s health and the environment.

Graham Kissack, vice-president of environment and health and safety with Paper Excellence, said the company acknowledges community concerns and wants to work to build trust and finalize a transformation plan for a clean and sustainable mill.

In June 2020, the mill was granted protection from its creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, a move aimed at allowing the company to restructure.

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