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Northern Pulp unsure Boat Harbour closure deadline can be met

April 28 2015

MICHAEL GORMAN PROVINCIAL REPORTER 
Published April 27, 2015 - 8:13pm  

Officials for Northern Pulp say there is, at best, a 50-50 chance Boat Harbour can be closed by 2020. The Liberal government introduced legislation 10 days ago for the closure of the mill’s treatment lagoon, setting aside more than $50 million for remediation of the site.

“We believe that the timelines, as outlined in the bill, are entirely unrealistic,” Terri Fraser, Northern Pulp’s technical manager, told the province’s law amendments committee Monday, citing a consultant’s report.

Fraser said regulatory responsibility for the project is shared by the provincial and federal governments and that the red tape associated with environmental assessments will take at least 30 months before construction could begin.

Major capital improvements are going to be necessary to prepare for a new treatment facility, and Fraser said it’s difficult to make those investments if it’s not a certainty timelines can be met. She called for the removal of a clause in the bill that she alleged prevents Northern Pulp from suing the province if the mill shuts down because it can’t close Boat Harbour by 2020.

“We support the bill,” Fraser told reporters. “We support the exit of Boat Harbour. But we have to do it in a way that works for the mill and for the people that work at the mill and the forestry sector.”

But the lawyer for the Pictou Landing First Nation said five years is more than enough time to get a new treatment facility in place and close Boat Harbour.

Brian Hebert said the band has engineering reports that show construction should only take two seasons and he estimates the planning phase should take no more than six months.

“The rest is bureaucracy,” Hebert told the committee.

He told reporters that there are already studies to show where a facility can be built and what kind of equipment is necessary. Studies looking at the cost of a new treatment site estimate $87 million to $95 million.

Regardless of how closure is reached, an emotional Chief Andrea Paul told the committee “this has been a long battle for my community.”

What’s happened at Boat Harbour robbed her community of an important part of its culture and history, she said. Several generations of people only know Boat Harbour as an environmental disaster, said Paul, and for too long, people felt powerless to speak out.

“We normalized something that never should have been normalized.”

Health concerns have been a long-standing issue in her community, and Paul noted that since a blockade last summer that spurred the agreement with the province, five elders have died, all from cancer.

“I can’t say that it’s because of Boat Harbour, but I can’t say that it’s not because of Boat Harbour, because I don’t have those answers, and I don’t have very many elders to lose.”

Brokering the deal with the province was the most challenging thing she’s ever had to do, she said, because of the long-standing mistrust for the government established from years of broken promises. And while five years is a long time to wait, Paul said she recognizes a process needs to be followed and everyone must work together to right a long-standing wrong.

Fraser said the mill’s owner, Paper Excellence Canada, plans to be in Nova Scotia for the long term and has invested more than $150 million in the facility since buying the mill in 2011. She said the mill wants to work with the province, but “despite repeated efforts by Northern Pulp, the province has not engaged on any meaningful discussions on a path forward, especially as it relates to Boat Harbour.”

Fraser said it is also too early to discuss whether the mill would contribute to the cost of a new treatment system.

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