Hundreds of forestry workers rallied in front of the Nova Scotia legislature in support of Northern Pulp Thursday as the mill’s owners turned up the heat on Premier Stephen McNeil, a day before he is to decide on the facility’s future.
Prior to the rally, Paper Excellence Canada released a statement saying it is preparing to cease operations if it doesn’t get an extension from the province on a legislated deadline to close the mill’s current effluent treatment plant.
The company said it would be forced to notify its work force and suppliers that it will shut down if the Jan. 31 deadline is not extended.
“We urge the premier of Nova Scotia to extend the Boat Harbour Act deadline and ensure a continued future for a sustainable and prosperous forestry sector in the province,” company CEO Brian Baarda said.
The warning comes as McNeil ponders a decision, promised for Friday, on whether to enforce the legislated deadline or give the company more time to complete an environmental assessment for a new treatment facility.
The company’s plan includes a 15-kilometre pipeline that would pump 85 million litres of treated effluent daily into the Northumberland Strait.
Baarda said without the extension, the industry needs to be ready for “the worst-case scenario,” which will include the loss of more than 300 jobs at the mill and the cancellation of contracts with suppliers and woodlot operators from across the province.
The company has consistently said in the past that it would close the mill if the deadline isn’t extended.
Meanwhile Thursday, there were dual protests by supporters and opponents of the company’s plan.
In Halifax, a union-sponsored rally was bolstered by a large convoy of heavy trucks that lined a highway outside the city. About two dozen of the logging vehicles eventually snaked their way though noon-hour traffic in the city’s downtown while sounding their horns.
Outside the legislature, mill workers mingled with loggers, woodlot owners and sawmill operators – all hoping to send a message to McNeil.
Mark Langille of River John, N.S., has nearly 18 years of service at Northern Pulp and wants the premier to extend the deadline.
“I want to continue to work in Nova Scotia, but if I lose my job at the mill I’ll probably have to go out west,” Langille said. “This has been a good job for me … and to leave now is like throwing it all away.”
Monica Thomsen, a mill employee from New Glasgow, N.S., said a closure would be devastating for her family because her husband also works at Northern Pulp. She said the controversy surrounding the mill has been very stressful, coming at a time when she’s trying to help her daughter through university.
Thomsen said the cleanup is needed but it shouldn’t come at the expense of closing the mill. “There isn’t a person at the mill that doesn’t want Boat Harbour cleaned up,” she said. “We need to be able to calmly rethink this process, and all parties involved can be satisfied if he (McNeil) makes the right decision tomorrow.”
On the Pictou Landing First Nation reserve, which is located near the mill’s current effluent lagoons and has endured decades of pollution, there was a large turnout in support of the community, which is urging the premier to keep his word on the deadline.
On Wednesday, Chief Andrea Paul told reporters the rally was intended as a celebration ahead of McNeil’s decision.
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