'We clearly have concerns,' Wilkinson says of Northern Pulp proposal

Canada's new environment minister says red flags raised by four federal departments on Northern Pulp's proposal for a new effluent treatment facility means more information is needed on the controversial project. 

"We clearly have concerns. I know that the province shares those concerns in terms of the gaps that exist with respect to information," Jonathan Wilkinson told CBC's Information Morning.

"There remain a number of unanswered questions. Those are important questions."

Northern Pulp in Pictou County, N.S., is looking for approval from the province to build a new effluent treatment facility that would transport wastewater and disperse it in the Northumberland Strait.

This week, CBC News obtained submissions from several federal agencies that argued the proposal lacks necessary details and sometimes uses outdated or inaccurate information.

The submissions were made during the public comment period for the province's environmental assessment process.

Decision will be based on 'science and evidence'

Even if the provincial government allows the project to go ahead, the federal government could still put on the brakes and order its own environmental assessment.

The province has until Dec. 17 to make a decision on whether to approve the new effluent treatment facility, while the deadline for the federal government to order an assessment is Dec. 20. 

Wilkinson said he will base his decision on "science and evidence."

"Ultimately we will be guided by science and data and we obviously... late last week said that we're lacking some of that right now and that is needed before a decision can be taken," he said.

While Wilkinson has only been in his new role for about a week, he said he's very familiar with the Northern Pulp file from his time as minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

He said he's specifically heard concerns from fishermen about the impact it could have on the province's lucrative lobster industry.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Those concerns were echoed by federal officials in their submissions. 

The Fisheries Department noted the project area includes herring spawning and larval distribution. Scientists also said they believe there is inadequate information provided to assess potential impacts on species such as American lobster and rock crab.

Heath Canada said that it does not have adequate information to assess whether the project may pose "unacceptable or unmitigable risks/adverse effects to human health."

Officials also raised concerns about what they view as a limited timeframe to properly evaluate the 2,500-page focus report. Under the province's environmental assessment process, the public was given 36 days to give feedback. 

Wilkinson said his decision whether or not to ask for a federal environmental assessment will also weigh the impact the project would have on New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. 

"At the end of the day, the role of environmental assessment processes is to ensure that major issues are flagged and either mitigated or if they can't be mitigated that there is a look at whether or not a project should in fact proceed," he said.

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