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Critics warn of ‘incomplete’ focus report on Northern Pulp’s effluent proposal

Northern Pulpproposed effluent treatment plant
An artist's rendering provided by Northern Pulp shows its proposed effluent treatment plant that would replace its Boat Harbour facility. Photo credit: Northern Pulp

A number of critics are sounding alarm bells around the Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation’s new focus report around its controversial proposal to pump treated wastewater into the Northumberland Strait.

The Town of Pictou, Pictou Landing First Nation, fishermen from across the Maritimes and the environmental group Friends of the Northumberland Strait have made written submissions against the proposal to pump up to 85 million litres of treated effluent into the strait daily.

In a November submission by a fishermen’s working group on behalf of the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, PEI Fishermen’s Association, and the Maritime Fishermen’s Union, working group lawyer Jamie Simpson writes that the effluent may ultimately be dumped into heavily-fished areas. If the project is allowed to proceed, he writes, the government will be “putting the Atlantic Canada seafood products, and the fishing industry that provides these products, at risk, as well as the health of the Northumberland Strait marine environment.”

As with other group’s complaints, the fishermen’s working group suggests that the new focus report is an incomplete response to the terms of reference required by the province. In a November submission to the government by EcoJustice, on behalf of Friends of the Northumberland Strait, the groups argue that, “the Focus Report package made available to the public was incomplete and the public may never have the chance to comment on some contemplated reports and submissions before the Minister makes his decision.”

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The new focus report, which involves some 20 separate studies, is now available for comment. Environment Minister Gordon Wilson is to make a final decision on the treatment plant proposal by mid-December.

In the 245-page report, Northern Pulp claims that, “The receiving water study at the existing Boat Harbour dam discharge into the Northumberland Strait undertaken to assess environmental impacts has concluded that existing dilution factors are low and insufficient for effluent mixing with the ambient water. A diffused outfall outside of Caribou Harbour in the Northumberland Strait is considered to have much less potential effluent impact on the receiving environment and represents an improvement.”

In response, EcoJustice writes that, “as a reality check, the Boat Harbour Basin has been receiving effluent from this pulp and paper mill for over 50 years. The effects of continuous flow of the mill’s treated effluent into that ecosystem are devastating and lasting and have negatively impacted generations of members of the nearby Pictou Landing First Nation.”

The proposed project has arisen out of 2015 legislation that ordered the original effluent treatment facility to shutter by early 2020, following a pipeline rupture that spilled some 47 million litres of effluent into a wetland in 2014. Boat Harbour’s current heavily polluted treatment lagoon remains on the edge of the Pictou Landing First Nation.

According to the latest project description, the new wastewater treatment facility will employ the “AnoxKaldnes BA Biological Activated Sludge process purchased from Veolia Water Technologies, which combines Moving Bed Biofilm Reactor technology with conventional activated sludge.” Once treated onsite at Northern Pulp’s facility, effluent will be sent through an approximately 15 km long pipeline, the company states.

Pictou Landing First Nation is arguing that 30 days is simply not enough time to weigh all of the details within the dense focus report.

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