Environment featured

John Collins on Northern Pulp: Let’s talk solutions

Photo Gerald James Halfyard, Facebook

To Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans; Iain Rankin, Nova Scotia Minister of Environment; Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change; Premier Stephen McNeil of Nova Scotia; Premier Wade MacLaughlan of PEI

Honorable Premiers and Ministers,

When you consider the ‘Boat Harbour Act’ and the impending federal assessment, which undoubtedly will be announced in the next couple of weeks, it seems inevitable Northern Pulp will have to shut down and cease operations in January 2020, either for an indefinite time, or for ever.

The blame for not dealing with this earlier rests with the management of the mill and its owners in Indonesia.

Consider how Boat Harbour was to be discontinued on three occasions prior to Northern Pulp’s purchase of the mill. Add to that the five years the mill has known that Boat Harbour would be discontinued after the legislation that followed the pipe burst in 2014 on Pictou Landing First Nation’s (PLFN) burial ground.

To even suggest extending the continued use of Boat Harbour past the legislated end date is an insult to PLFN and is unacceptable. You and your government, Mr. Premier, should be commended for finally bringing this burden placed on PLFN to an end.

A federal assessment is inevitable

A federal assessment is inevitable. The fact is that the sea bottom, where Northern Pulp plans to dredge to bury the pipe in Caribou Harbour and the Northumberland Strait, is federal land, which would necessitate a federal assessment.

After all, the dredging of Caribou Harbour in 2007 along the passenger ferry channel required a federal assessment, as did the 2015 upgrading of PEI-New Brunswick Cable Interconnection Upgrade Project – VOLUME 4, The Northumberland Strait.  

Federal assessments occurred because sea bottom is federal land and because of the potential to negatively impact commercial fisheries and species at risk.

Add to the legal necessity to do a federal assessment the wishes of the residents of PLFN, a working group of 3000 fishermen, thousands of concerned citizens, Pictou County’s MLAs, the government of PEI, as well as some 20 percent of Canadian senators.

If the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) by some inconceivable reasoning doesn’t step in, the Supreme Court of Canada would ensure a federal assessment would occur.

An expensive mess

The province has suggested it would be liable to compensate the mill for ceasing use of the lease on Boat Harbour 10 years early and is in negotiations with the mill as it pertains to financial liability.  There have been suggestions in the news the value would be similar to the costs of Northern Pulp’s new treatment facility and pipe into the Strait, which amounts to approximately $130 million.

No doubt the Province will also be sued by Northern Pulp for lost revenue.  This sounds like it’s going to end up costing hundreds of millions more of taxpayers’ money. Not to mention the $300 million plus it is estimated to cost to remediate Boat Harbour.  

Factor in the lost jobs in forestry and the mill and this is really turning into quite an expensive mess.  

Keep in mind though that pumping this massive flow of hot effluent containing toxic solids direct into the ‘heart’ of the lobster and herring spawning grounds in the Northumberland Strait would definitely cost billions of dollars to the government in compensation to fishermen in three provinces.

Closed loop system remains feasible

Contrary to Northern Pulps press releases a closed loop system remains feasible, but at a cost. Paper Excellence has a mill in Meadows Lake, Saskatchewan which discharges no effluents. The conversion would probably cost between 25% and 35% of what building a new facility like Northern Pulp would cost, and add to that the cost of a lengthy down time to convert the mill.

The product produced in such a new mill would still have the strong fibers our trees provide, but would fade yellow when exposed to sunlight. When you consider what paper towel and toilet paper are used to clean up, I really don’t think it matters much if they are yellow to begin with.  

Another added benefit of such a new mill is that the air emissions are far less.  So overall, no effluent discharged and less air emissions; a slightly different product, but still a good product.

With the environment as a major benefactor, including the health of people, the added benefit to the Strait, the retained jobs, this seems a viable solution.

Yet Northern Pulp management, or their senior management at Paper Excellence, won’t consider anything with regards to ‘closed loop’. Their mantra is ‘no pipe=no mill’. Well it’s coming to that and they won’t budge, they’ve simply ramped up their media campaign, which is dividing the community.

Maybe the province should purchase a converted mill, and consider adding a manufacturing plant

If the Province were to consider purchasing the mill, with the intent of converting it to a closed loop mill, it should also consider actually manufacturing the products right here in Pictou County to assure the projects profitable viability, instead of exporting the bulk pulp.  

The construction phase of a manufacturing facility would employ a lot of the workers at the mill, as would the conversion of the existing mill. Some of the sawmills may need assistance to hang in in the interim, but this would be feasible knowing they would be required after the mill’s conversion.

Obviously the hundreds of millions saved in litigation and compensation to Northern Pulp is a motivator, and the conversion of the existing paper mill to an environmentally friendly paper mill would be a major benefit to the area. Add in manufacturing jobs created for the pulp used here, the jobs at the mill maintained, it seems that it would be worth considering.

The need to sustain our forests would also need to be considered. The money Northern Pulp owes the province could simply be used towards buying the mill and the associated forests it borrowed to purchase, from the crown.

The division created by the mill has hardened people’s positions on both sides of this dilemma, but most people in Pictou County have friends and family that either work at the mill, in forestry or fishing and buying the mill would benefit all these groups.

The government would no longer be subsidizing a foreign owned company, but creating and maintaining jobs in an environmentally friendly, sustainable fashion.  

This all may sound a bit ‘socialistic’, but it would be a win-win, locally and provincially.

Something to consider,

John Collins, Loch Broom, N.S.

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