A legislative committee hearing in Charlottetown was packed to overflowing on Friday for a presentation about the potential impact of a wastewater treatment plant in Nova Scotia on P.E.I.'s fishing industry.
Representatives from Northern Pulp delivered the presentation on the treatment plant at the pulp mill in Pictou County, N.S., and then took questions from Island MLAs on the Standing Committee for Agriculture and Fisheries.
There was so much interest from the public about the presentation that space in a building across the street was opened up for the overflow.
"As you can see by the turnout today … fishers of P.E.I. are passionate about this," said Ian MacPherson with the PEI Fishermen's Association.
"It's really going to ramp up soon because this timeline is ticking away."
The Nova Scotia government has set a deadline to close the existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour by January 2020.
The proposed location for the new effluent pipe outfall in the Northumberland Strait would be 4.5 kilometres from the current release point at Pictou Landing First Nation.
Representatives from Northern Pulp insist pulp and paper effluent is well-studied.
"The Canadian pulp and paper mill effluent regulations require that we do a study on the environmental effects on our actual effluent," said Bruce Chapman, Northern Pulp's general manager.
"That is done every three years and we are entering cycle eight where we study exactly what our effluent is doing to the environment."
Chapman said they are committed to doing the best they can to protect the Northumberland Strait.
"We came here to hear people's concerns, we heard people's concerns, now it's our job to address those in the environmental assessment document," Chapman said.
The mill has been piping treated wastewater into the Northumberland Strait for 50 years.
The company says the new treatment plant means that water will be cleaner than the current effluent.
Some P.E.I. officials were not satisfied with what they heard.
"I was asking: who are the scientists, who are the experts?" said Opposition MLA Sidney MacEwen. "'We're going to get to that, we're not sure yet,'
"I don't think there's proper time allowed to do a proper biological assessment on actual lobster larvae and herring breeding grounds to justify this project."
The company expects to submit documents to the Nova Scotia government this summer for the environmental assessment process.
Chapman said construction on the new project could begin after the review is complete but there are still discussions to be had with the province of Nova Scotia about the new facilities funding.
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Correction : An earlier version of this story said Northern Pulp has been told by the Nova Scotia government to have the new plant up and running by 2020 when in fact the Nova Scotia government has set a deadline to close the existing treatment facility at Boat Harbour by January 2020.(Feb 17, 2018 8:48 AM)