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Northern Pulp mill takes Nova Scotia to court over operating permit

August 21 2015

CBC News 

Pictou County mill says province's many conditions nearly impossible to meet

The Northern Pulp mill is taking the province of Nova Scotia to court.

Documents filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Friday challenge dozens of terms and conditions in the mill's industrial approval and five-year operating permit issued by the Environment Department in January.

In April, the mill appealed that decision to Randy Delorey, who was the Environment Minister at the time. That resulted in eight changes favourable to the company this July.

One of the most significant changes was dropping all references to the Boat Harbour wastewater treatment facility, which Northern Pulp has an agreement to use until its lease with the province expires in 2030.

In June 2014, the province signed an agreement with the Pictou Landing First Nation, committing to what became the Boat Harbour Act. That legislation, passed in the spring, promised to close Boat Harbour by 2020.

The July decision by Delorey also backed off requiring the company to reduce its consumption of water by about one-third and replacing that condition with a review, which is still ongoing. The outcome of that review is expected in September.

Some conditions virtually impossible: Northern Pulp

The minister also dropped a condition that would have required the company to reduce the amount of sulphur compounds — which contribute to odour — in the effluent by 77 per cent. 

The company had argued and produced reports from consultants showing that condition would be virtually impossible to meet.

But, Delorey's decision didn't go far enough to satisfy Northern Pulp. On Friday, the company upped the ante by filing an appeal of the minister's decision under section 138 of the Environment Act.

"The July 9 decision letter did not address multiple issues raised within Northern Pulp's appeal filed April 2015 within Nova Scotia Environment [Department] and therefore until all primary concerns are addressed, it's imperative that we as a company keep open all options available to us and that includes the courts," said Kathy Cloutier, communications director for Northern Pulp in Abercrombie.

Cloutier said Northern Pulp would prefer to reach an agreement with the province on the terms of its industrial approval.

"Northern Pulp's primary objective is to achieve, through dialogue with government and First Nations, an industrial approval which allows us to meet our environmental responsibility, therefore making any court process unnecessary," she wrote.

"Conversations underway with government are increasingly constructive." 

The company said one of the major sticking points is a condition in the permit which refuses to allow the mill to increase its level of pulp production.

Latest stack results below limits

Although Northern Pulp says it prefers to resolve its issues outside court, Environment Minister Andrew Younger says that's the the only avenue for most complaints about how the mill will operate.

"The items that [former] Minister Delorey has rejected in the appeal, in his decision letter, there is no ability to revisit those," he said. 

"The only decision left that we can make is on the water and wastewater issue. Obviously, the Department of Natural Resources is working on fibre allocations with the mill and [Internal Services]Minister Labi Kousoulis is working on the Boat Harbour file. So there are a lot of different pieces in the air that are much broader than the Industrial Approval."

The Environment Department released its latest stack results from the mill on Friday — the first since the mill installed its new precipitator.

In a statement, the province said the new precipitator is "working as expected" and said the emissions limit is almost 80 per cent lower than the mill's previous approval.

"We're pleased to see such positive results so early in the commissioning phase of the new precipitator," Environment Minister Andrew Younger said in the statement.

"This is an important milestone in our work to ensure a cleaner operating mill, and to ensure we support Nova Scotians in their desire for an environmentally healthy and prosperous Pictou County."

The province said all other stack test results were also below the required limits, including the power boiler which was slightly above the approved limit in April.

The deadline for appeals to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Northern Pulp's industrial approval is Aug. 24. To date, two appeals have been filed — one from Northern Pulp and one from the Pictou Landing First Nation. 

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