Premier questions Northern Pulp proposal timelines, won't engage in settlement talks

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Premier Iain Rankin says timelines Northern Pulp outlines in court documents for a potential new effluent treatment facility might not be achievable. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)
Premier Iain Rankin says timelines Northern Pulp outlines in court documents for a potential new effluent treatment facility might not be achievable. (Communications Nova Scotia - image credit)

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin says his government does not plan to have settlement talks with Northern Pulp, despite a warning from the company that it might sue the province if the two sides can't agree on the terms of an environmental assessment for a new effluent treatment facility.

The company said in an affidavit recently filed in a B.C. court that it intends to submit a revised proposal for the new facility next month. It added litigation may be necessary to resolve disputes if common ground can't be found.

Rankin said Thursday the company is showing interest in finding a way to resume operations and he's waiting to see what unfolds.

"If litigation ends up happening, then we'll participate in that," Rankin told reporters at Province House.

'Potentially not achievable'

The premier said he has no details about the potential proposal and described the timelines outlined in court documents as "questionable."

"We thought that it was potentially not achievable, but that's for them to answer," he said.

In February, a community liaison community established in the wake of the mill shutdown said if company officials were serious about restarting and building community trust, they should withdraw an application for a judicial review and the proposal that is currently before the province.

The court documents provide no details about whether this new plan would include using a pipeline to send treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait.

That was part of an earlier proposal — which to date has not been approved — that caused a firestorm of protest from the Pictou Landing First Nation, fishing and environmental groups and many others living in Pictou County.

The mill shut down at the end of January 2020 when it failed to get approval for its proposal and it could no longer use Boat Harbour as its treatment lagoon.

Old proposal remains on the books

Rankin said the province is considering filing its own affidavit with the court to identify where government officials see challenges with what the company is suggesting, including the idea that the project could be ready for an environmental assessment decision by the end of June 2022.

Like the premier, Environment Minister Keith Irving said he's heard nothing from the company about the proposal. In fact, Irving said the company has not officially abandoned its original proposal, which is subject to a deadline of April 22, 2022, to complete an environmental assessment report.

"That's still the information that we have at the department," he told CBC News. "If they submit any alterations to that, then we'll make a judgment on what's appropriate timelines."

Feds should do the assessment

Tory Leader Tim Houston, whose riding includes the Pictou Landing First Nation, said if a new plan comes forward, the evaluation process needs to be clear from the start. He recommended a Class 2 environmental assessment, which would require a report and a formal public review that could include hearings.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill agreed on the need for a stringent assessment, but said he doesn't think the evaluation should be left to the provincial government.

"If there is an effluent treatment facility proposal, we can only go forward on the basis of the very highest standard available of arm's length, independent review — and that is a full-scope federal environmental assessment," he said.

Northern Pulp's court filings suggest they view their new submission as being classified as a "modification to existing infrastructure," something that would be subject to a 50-day review, which could be extended at the environment minister's discretion.

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