The Growing Impatience of an Industry Town: “This Has Really Created Tension”

PICTOU, N.S. — The picturesque harbour town of Pictou, N.S., has had an uneasy relationship with its job-rich, toxin-spewing neighbour almost since it opened in 1967. After years of pumping 70 million litres of treated wastewater a day into lagoons on the edge of the Pictou Landing First Nation reserve, Northern Pulp wants to pipe it into the nearby Northumberland Strait.

Some properties in the town are sprinkled with “No Pulp Waste In Our Water” signs, an indication of increasing impatience with Northern Pulp and its spotty environmental record under a succession of owners.

“This has really created tension … and it’s split some families and friends,” said Karla MacFarlane, a Pictou resident who is the local MLA and interim leader of the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

Under provincial legislation, the mill has until 2020 to replace its current wastewater treatment plant in Boat Harbour.

The band later erected a blockade to protest a leak in a pipe carrying toxic mill wastewater to the treatment plant in June 2014. The Liberal government promised to clean up the site, which led to legislation passed in 2015.

Kathy Cloutier, spokeswoman for the mill’s parent company, Paper Excellence, said Northern Pulp has worked to improve its impact on the environment.

“There has been in the span since 2011 to the present time a significant commitment and investment by Paper Excellence to reduce the mill’s environmental footprint,” said Cloutier.

She said Northern Pulp will continue to engage the community, including fishermen.

In February, groups representing fishermen in Nova Scotia, P.E.I., and New Brunswick suspended further meetings with the mill after voicing frustration over its insistence on a pipe.

“We’ve asked them for Plan B and they said no,” said Ronald Heighton, president of the Northumberland Fishermen’s Association.

We told them our stance hasn’t changed, there’ll be no pipe in the Strait. Their comment at the time was, no pipe, no mill, and so I said I guess we are at an impasse.”

The mill announced its plan for a new treatment plant in December. Cloutier said the proposed system would reduce the need for bleaching chemicals by about 30 to 40 per cent.

Critics including environmental groups and Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan say the mill’s plan could have unintended consequences for fisheries in the area. They have called for a comprehensive federal assessment along with a more comprehensive Class 2 provincial assessment, as is being done for the treatment lagoon cleanup. Northern Pulp is to submit the assessment to Nova Scotia’s Environment Department sometime in July.

Edited by The Epoch Times for brevity