Northern Pulp's proposed effluent treatment facility won't be subject to federal assessment

·3 min read
Officials with Northern Pulp hope to be able to restart their mill in Nova Scotia, seen in this photo from 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Officials with Northern Pulp hope to be able to restart their mill in Nova Scotia, seen in this photo from 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The new effluent treatment facility proposed by Northern Pulp for its shuttered mill in Abercrombie, N.S., will not be designated for a federal environmental impact assessment.

In releasing his decision this week, Canada's environment minister, Steven Guilbeault, writes that a federal designation is unwarranted because "the regulatory processes that currently apply to the project and related consultations with the potentially impacted Indigenous peoples provide a framework to address the potential adverse … effects and impacts" of the project.

The Pictou Landing First Nation made a formal request to Guilbeault to designate the project for the federal assessment, which would have added several years to the process the company must follow.

Guilbeault's reasons for his decision note that the Class 2 environmental assessment the company must follow with the provincial government already requires the participation of the federal Fisheries, Environment, Transportation and Health departments as experts.

Concerns can be managed through existing process

The minister also said that should the company get the necessary approvals from the province for its proposed project, it would still require federal approvals in step with the Fisheries Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act and Canadian Navigable Waters Act. A suite of provincial legislation related to species at risk and migratory birds would also be in play.

An analysis prepared for Guilbeault said the agency believes the project has the potential to cause adverse effects to fish, fish habitat, species at risk, and the rights of First Nation communities, although it's anticipated those concerns would be managed through existing legislative and regulatory measures.

Northern Pulp is proposing an overhaul of its bleached kraft pulp mill and a new effluent treatment facility that would see the discharge of treated wastewater into Pictou Harbour via a pipeline, the location of which would be determined following a receiving water study.

The company has criticized the province for not setting hard targets in the terms of reference for its environmental assessment requirements. The provincial government has countered that isn't how the environmental assessment process works.

A spokesperson for the province said Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman determined last month he could not deal with the company's appeal of the terms of reference because they aren't a decision or an order — the only two things that can be appealed to the minister under the province's Environment Act.

Company, province take 2-month legal pause

Meanwhile, the province and company have agreed to enter into a two-month pause on a variety of legal proceedings following months of heated rhetoric and growing public tension between the two sides.

Northern Pulp filed a $450-million lawsuit against the province related to the loss of access to Boat Harbour as an effluent treatment facility before the company's lease was up. A government spokesperson said the pause also applies to non-binding mediation the province was ordered by a B.C. Supreme Court justice to enter into with the company.

A spokesperson for Northern Pulp said the company agreed to a two-month pause on its application for a judicial review of the terms of reference for its provincial environmental assessment in order to focus on mediation.

The former Liberal government passed the Boat Harbour Act in 2015, which ordered the closure of the former tidal estuary to effluent by 2020. The mill ceased operations when it could not get approval for a proposed replacement project and could not convince the province to delay the enforcement of the Boat Harbour Act.

Although the company is suing the province for damages, it has also pushed for settlement talks. Premier Tim Houston has previously said the place to settle the dispute is in court.

The government passed an amendment to the Boat Harbour Act this spring intended to remove any liability the province faces because of the legislation, despite the company inheriting an indemnity agreement when it purchased the mill.


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