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All eyes on Nova Scotia’s transition through Northern Pulp paper mill closure

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Days before Christmas, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced he was keeping his promise to the Pictou Landing First Nation and would not allow Northern Pulp’s Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility to operate beyond the January 31, 2020, deadline.

The December 20 announcement also came with the news that the province would create a $50-million dollar fund to provide assistance to some 350 workers affected by the mill’s closure, plus an estimated 2,400 in the province’s supply chain. The fund also aims to help transition Nova Scotia’s forestry sector, which was found by an independent review last August to “have left a legacy of impoverished forests.”

The paper mill has operated in the Pictou area since 1967. Ever since, pumping wastewater into nearby polluted lagoons has created environmental and cultural controversy for the province.

“Look at the history,” announced McNeil in his long-awaited speech regarding Boat Harbour’s fate. “The company has had five years and a number of opportunities to get out of Boat Harbour. And, at this point, we are not even close to doing that. The company has put us all in a very difficult position. And now it is decision time. And this is one of the hardest decisions that we as a government have had to make. The commitment I made to clean up Boat Harbor was a serious one and not something our government did lightly. Many governments before us said they would clean it up, but did not. We will not repeat that pattern,” he said.

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McNeil also noted the problematic reports that have emerged from the paper company.

Following McNeil’s press conference, Brian Baarda, CEO of Northern Pulp’s parent company, Paper Excellence Canada, blamed the Nova Scotia Department of Environment for the impending mill closure.

“It is apparent that Nova Scotia Environment has long been unable to provide a definitive process over the last four and a half years,” Baarda told reporters. “We have continued to respond to each and every additional request for further science. Our initial investigatory work changed dramatically from seven reports to 68 current individual areas of study,” he said.

But the paper company’s management says they’re still moving forward with the environmental assessment for a new effluent treatment facility. The public has until Feburary 7, 2020 to comment on the document, exactly a week after Boat Harbour is scheduled to stop receiving effluent. A final terms of reference will be available in April, triggering a two-year timeline to complete the environmental assessment report.

The proposed effluent treatment facility would replace Pictou County’s controversial Boat Harbour treatment facility owned by the Nova Scotia government and leased to Northern Pulp. The facility has processed Northern Pulp’s effluent for some 50 years, but after a pipeline break, was essentially ordered by the province in 2015 to shut its doors by 2020, a reality that has now been realized.

Northern Pulp officials say they are winterizing the Boat Harbour mill and it will remain dormant for the foreseeable future. Shutdown procedures began over the weekend. The only thing that could pass through the plant after its shutdown at the end of January would be something to clean the pipe that runs from the mill to Boat Harbour.

Nova Scotia Lands Inc. is proposing the remediation and restoration of Boat Harbour and nearby lands, located next to Pictou Landing First Nation and five kilometres east of Pictou.

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