Northern Pulp mill to move ahead with environmental assessment process

N.S. premier officially met with newly formed forestry transition team
Premier Stephen McNeil officially met the Nova Scotia Foresty Transition Panel Thursday. The eight-member task force includes industry experts and politicians who’ll now be tasked with helping the forestry sector through the challenging times ahead. Jesse Thomas has more.

Nova Scotia’s Environment Department says Northern Pulp intends to move ahead with the environmental assessment process for a proposed effluent treatment facility, even though the mill is scheduled to shut down at the end of the month.

In a statement Thursday, the mill’s parent company, Paper Excellence Canada, said it intends to complete an environmental assessment required by the provincial government. Environment Minister Gordon Wilson rejected the company’s most recent attempt to get approval for a plan that would involve pumping treated wastewater into the Northumberland Strait.

Following that decision last month, Paper Excellence said it would wrap up operations at the Northern Pulp mill because it couldn’t operate without a place to dump its effluent. However, Thursday’s statement appeared to indicate a reversal in the company’s position.

“Despite recent set-backs, we remain committed to the province and want to operate in Nova Scotia for the long term,” the company said.

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“Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

READ MORE: N.S. offering ’emotional support’ line to workers affected by mill closure

The company pointed out that since purchasing the mill in 2011 it had invested more than $70 million in “people, technology, and processes to improve our production and reduce our environmental impact.”

Speaking with reporters prior to the company’s statement, Premier Stephen McNeil said the mill would have to comply with the legislated Jan. 31 deadline for the closure of its current effluent facility in Boat Harbour, N.S., located near the Pictou Landing First Nation.

McNeil said while he hasn’t been in direct contact with company officials about their future plans, they have been in discussions with the provincial departments of environment and transportation and infrastructure renewal.

He said he believes the company’s wish to continue with the environmental process indicates they want to continue to operate in Nova Scotia.

“They’ve talked about it going dormant – mothballing the plant – which means they have to winterize it,” said McNeil.

In the meantime, McNeil said the province, which has responsibility for the current discharge pipe running from the plant to Boat Harbour, is in discussions with the Pictou Landing First Nation about allowing remaining effluent from the plant to be dumped as the province cleans the pipe out and caps it.

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With the continuance of the environmental assessment process, the province has issued a draft terms of reference giving the public until Feb. 7 to comment. The final terms will be provided to the company in April, after which it will have up to two years to complete its report.

Member of newly-formed forestry transition team fired
Member of newly-formed forestry transition team fired

The premier said the company’s decision to move ahead with the environmental assessment wouldn’t alter the government’s plans for its $50-million job transition fund, announced Dec. 20, to assist more than 300 workers at the mill and more than 2,000 workers in the province’s forestry sector.

“We have to prepare a plan without a paper mill. If one comes on at some point that’s good but we have to transition this sector,” McNeil said.

The head of a government-industry transition team was scheduled to meet with reporters later Thursday following the group’s first meeting.

That team made news earlier this week when it announced the removal of industry member Robin Wilber.

Wilber, the president of Elmsdale Lumber, was dismissed after he made statements suggesting the Northern Pulp mill could survive beyond the legislated deadline by switching to a so-called “hot idle” state rather than a complete shutdown.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2019.

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