Mill's dredging plans threatened Boat Harbour remediation timeline, says N.S.

·3 min read
The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., viewed from Pictou, N.S., Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019 (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., viewed from Pictou, N.S., Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2019 (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia provided more details Wednesday about its decision to take over the cleanup of the province's biggest environmentally contaminated site, saying delays in Northern Pulp's portion of the project threatened to interfere with the $300-million remediation of Boat Harbour.

The company was ordered last year to remove the top layer of sludge from the bottom of settling ponds at the pulp mill effluent treatment facility as part of its decommissioning.

"Northern Pulp was having difficulty in figuring out the technology around dredging, and especially their implementation schedule to get it done," said provincial government project manager Ken Swain.

"It seemed that their activity was going to drift maybe even two or three years into the start of our project."

Company was to remove top layer of sludge

Both mill and the treatment facility closed in early 2020.

The province owns Boat Harbour and is responsible for removing sludge accumulated in the decades before the Paper Excellence subsidiary took over the nearby pulp mill.

Swain said Northern Pulp is having trouble figuring out the technology around dredging which has slowed down progress.
Swain said Northern Pulp is having trouble figuring out the technology around dredging which has slowed down progress. (CBC)

Nova Scotia Lands, the provincial government agency leading project, planned to start dredging in 2022 after Northern Pulp finished its work, but Swain said the company indicated it may still have material on site in 2023 and its plans were incomplete.

"We could see that their activity was still going to be ongoing in 2022, and possibly drifting into another year or two. At that point, we took the decision to take over operational responsibility for the site to ensure there was no conflict or overlap between their decommissioning activity and our remediation activity," he said.

Province hopes to recoup $19M

The province estimates the additional cost at $19 million and hopes to recoup some or all of that money from Northern Pulp, which is currently in court creditor protection.

In a news release, the company said it submitted a draft decommissioning plan on Feb. 28. It did not respond to CBC News questions about the province's claims or whether it would repay.

Northern Pulp was not the only potential delay.

Earlier this month, Ottawa stopped the clock on its deadline for a decision on the federal environmental assessment into the remediation.

The timeout followed the submission of dozens of information requirements from the newly created Impact Assessment Agency of Canada and notice that more will likely follow.

"We've expressed our concern about the timeliness of this process," said Swain.

The questions include issues that will unfold years into the project like quantifying levels of suspended solids in the water after various dams are removed to return Boat Harbour to a tidal estuary.

Concern about timeliness

The province contends some of these can be made conditions as part of an approval.

Boat Harbour is also the first project in Canada to undergo a technical review from agency.

The technical review — completed in February — evaluated the robustness of the basic premise behind the cleanup: contaminated material will be dredged, dried and stored in a containment cell at the Boat Harbour site.

The dredge sytem that will scoop out thousands of tonnes of contaminated sludge and sediment from 53-years of accumualted pulp mill effluent at Boat Harbour.
The dredge sytem that will scoop out thousands of tonnes of contaminated sludge and sediment from 53-years of accumualted pulp mill effluent at Boat Harbour. (Nova Scotia Lands Inc.)

"We don't believe there are any showstoppers," said Swain. "We were advised as much that's the case. We believe that there's no reason that the project cannot be approved based on the science that we've developed and advanced for approval."

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin told reporters this week the province expects federal approvals within a few months.

That's a message Swain is delivering, too.

"We're pushing to try and get through this process as quickly as possible," he said.

"We've got our consultants, our engineers and our scientists available. We've gone through the process of developing a strategy to answer those information requests. But we need to sit down with the agency and the technical reviewers to come to some resolution."

MORE TOP STORIES