The operator of a pulp and paper mill at the centre of a continuing controversy in Pictou, N.S., has asked the provincial government to allow it an extra year of dumping the mill’s wastewater next to the territory of a local First Nation.
Northern Pulp, a bleached kraft paper mill, has until January of 2020 to come up with an alternative to discharging its wastewater at Boat Harbour, a traditional fishing ground of the Pictou Landing First Nation. A provincial law designed to put an end to pollution at Boat Harbour – known as one of Nova Scotia’s worst environmental disasters – mandated the stop back in 2015. The harbour, an inlet off the Northumberland Strait, is contaminated with dioxins, mercury, heavy metals and other substances.
At a press conference in Halifax Thursday morning, executives from the mill said the company is making progress on a new wastewater plan but needs an extra year beyond the 2020 deadline to complete construction of a new treatment facility.
“We simply need a bit more time to ensure the time and due diligence to carry out each phase,” said Kathy Cloutier, a spokesperson for Northern Pulp.
Executives stopped short of saying the mill, which employs about 300 full-time workers, would shut down if the deadline is not granted, but they implied its operations would be compromised.
“We will not operate illegally under the Boat Harbour Act,” said Ms. Cloutier.
The act prohibits discharging of any wastewater after January of 2020; the mill cannot operate without discharging that effluent somewhere.
Ms. Cloutier said the mill is prepared to begin construction on a new treatment facility as soon as the province approves the company’s plan – and before any deadline extension is granted.
“We believe we will get that extension,” Ms. Cloutier said. “The science is tried and true. We believe in this project.”
Under the mill’s new plan, treated wastewater would be discharged directly into the Strait, a lucrative and beloved fishing ground for fishermen across three provinces.
Controversy over this plan has bitterly divided Pictou and the communities that surround it. While millworkers and the forestry industry support the plan, numerous protests have been held by groups uniting fishermen, concerned citizens and members of Pictou Landing. They are united in their opposition to any pipe in the Strait.
Pictou Landing held a press conference Thursday morning to mark the one-year countdown to January of 2020 and the closure of Boat Harbour.
Brian Hebert, a lawyer for the Indigenous band, said they are unlikely to agree to any compromise involving an extension of dumping permissions at Boat Harbour. “There is no appetite for that,” he said. “They don’t want money. They want to clean things up. They are very concerned about their fishing grounds,” he said.
Ms. Cloutier said the mill and Pictou Landing “have the same goal. That is to see Boat Harbour returned to its natural state. We just need more time.”