An unrealistic timeline and undefined process downing Nova Scotia mill

Abercrombie, Nova Scotia - Northern Pulp Nova Scotia battled against an unrealistic timeline and an undefined process, Paper Excellence Canada CEO Brian Baarda said in a release aimed at “setting the record straight” after the Nova Scotia government would not move on a deadline that closes the Pictou County mill by the end of January.

The closure comes on the heels of a proposed new stateof- the-art wastewater treatment plant proposed by Paper Excellence costing $130 million which the company promoted as a means of eliminating the need to dump wastewater through Boat Harbour, a flashpoint with First Nations for decades.

“At the end of the day, we believe we put forward an excellent plan informed by thirdparty subject matter expertise based on sound science. This plan showed no meaningful environmental impact, represented significant operational improvement, and ensured Nova Scotia’s forest sector and the thousands it employs could remain a vital part of our economy, all while enabling the timely closure and remediation of Boat Harbour prior to the original contracted closure date of 2030,” Baarda said.

The kraft pulp mill has been an economic driver for the area since 1967 with wastewater discharge through Boat Habour starting at that time. The harbour had been a traditional food gathering and recreational area for the First Nations. Paper Excellence purchased the mill in 2011 and “recognized that investments would be needed to bring the mill to the environmental standards expected today,” Baarda said, adding that Paper Excellence purchased the mill with the assurance that all existing contracts would be honored.

Since that time, Baarda said the company has invested more than $70 million in people, technology, and processes, with more investments planned, that would continue to improve our production and reduce our environmental impact.

“While we made these financial investments in good faith, we also understood the need to address the social and community impacts that were the result of the sad legacy of Boat Harbour and a history of poor relations between the Pictou Landing First Nation (PLNF), the community and previous mill operators,” he said. “We have always said that Boat Harbour needs to close, and we continue to believe this.”

In June 2014, a faulty pipe resulted in an effluent leak, he said, and “we took full responsibility for this very unfortunate incident and undertook immediate actions to fix it.”

He said that “what is often forgotten” is that the response was delayed due to a protestor blockade. “The blockade was only ended, and the mill restarted, when the Government of Nova Scotia agreed with PLFN to introduce legislation to have a Boat Harbour closure plan within a year.”

The Boat Harbour Act effectively revised the closure date of Boat Harbour from 15 years to four years and eight months. Northern Pulp was not consulted in setting this new date, Baarda said. “We made it clear the timeline was not realistic.”

He said that in addition to shortening the timeline by more than 10 years, the government also changed the requirements of the Industrial Approval, the permit that allows the mill to operate. These changes presented a major threat to continued mill operations by requiring major capital investments without certainty that the January 31, 2020 Boat Harbour Act deadline could be met.

It took a Supreme Court challenge and several decisions from the Minister of Environment to provide the certainty that Northern Pulp could continue to operate, he said. “Our team worked diligently and in partnership with the government starting in 2016 to design a new wastewater treatment facility. We also started to conduct the necessary and growing list of studies required by the government.”

It became apparent through studies that the initial pipe outfall proposal wasn’t preferred or feasible given ocean ice. Northern Pulp proposed an alternate location in the Caribou Channel and immediately began to carry out surveying and environmental studies. The survey boat was blocked by local fishers who refused to allow the work to proceed. The blockade lasted until late December 2018 and was only ended after successful legal action. “Unfortunately, this cost us time as we could not resume marine surveys until the spring 2019 ice break up,” he said.

“At this point, we had less than two years to complete more than two years of required environmental study and analysis. Only then would we get a decision from the Minister of Environment. The actual construction of a new wastewater treatment facility and pipe would take at least another two years.”

Baarda said that over the course of the process, seven studies required by the Department of Environment became 68. Despite an already unrealistic timeline, our team did its best to meet each new request.

The Minister of Environment decided there was not enough information and requested a full environmental assessment – a requirement that adds at least two years to the timeline. Baarda said “It is disappointing that the Minister of Environment’s request for a full environmental assessment was not made many years earlier. It would have provided a definitive process and a more realistic timeline.”

He said the minister’s decision, combined with the premier’s refusal to extend the deadline for the closure of Boat Harbour, is now resulting in the closure of Northern Pulp, the devastation of Nova Scotia’s forestry industry, loss of over 2,700 rural jobs, and significant impact to another 8,300 forestry jobs across Nova Scotia.

“Unfortunately, an unrealistic timeline and undefined process has put us in the position we, and you, are in today,” he said, adding the company doesn’t know what lies beyond the closure date.

“We will, however, continue to meet with government and industry stakeholders to fight for a future for Northern Pulp in Nova Scotia,” he said.

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