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Northern Pulp continuing with environmental assessment process

Government releases draft terms of reference as mill prepares for shutdown

Just weeks before the mill is scheduled to shut down, officials with Northern Pulp have informed the Nova Scotia government they plan to continue with the environmental assessment process for a proposed new effluent treatment facility.

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson said last month the company’s most recent attempt to get approval for the project, which would include treatment on the mill’s property in Pictou County and treated effluent sent to the Northumberland Strait via a pipeline, lacked sufficient scientific information. At the time, Wilson said the project would require an environmental assessment report.

Just days later, Premier Stephen McNeil said he would not extend the deadline in the Boat Harbour Act, legislation that says the mill must stop using the former tidal estuary to treat its effluent as of the end of this month.

The decision effectively spelled the end of the mill and officials have begun the shutdown process. The operation is no longer buying pulpwood, a move that’s had a drastic effect on the forestry sector and value of woodlots, and layoff notices for the mill’s 350 workers are imminent.

Still, according to the 37-page draft terms of reference released by the Environment Department on Wednesday, the company told the government on Jan. 2 it intended to continue with the environmental assessment process, a decision that required the department to release the draft. The public has until Feb. 7 to comment on the document, exactly a week after Boat Harbour is scheduled to stop receiving effluent.

A final terms of reference will be provided to the company in April, at which point it will have two years to complete the environmental assessment report.

Little information about process

It’s not clear how the mill could continue with the environmental assessment process, given company officials have previously said the operation cannot be shut down for an extended period of time without damaging equipment. No one from the company could be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The government would not make anyone available for comment. Although notice of the mill’s intention was published in Wednesday’s editions of The Chronicle Herald and Royal Gazette, a news release wasn’t issued until after 5 p.m. AT that day.

Since the premier issued his decision last month, no one from his government has been willing to do interviews.

Requests to speak with Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin and Kelliann Dean, the deputy minister in charge of the province’s forestry transition team, have been turned down in the last two weeks.

Dean is scheduled to speak to reporters Thursday, along with McNeil, for the first time following the transition team’s initial meeting. Some people who work in the forestry industry have expressed concern that the lack of information to this point is an indication the government still isn’t sure how to respond to the pending loss of the single largest player in the forestry industry, or how to cope with the economic fallout.

Last month, McNeil announced a $50-million transition fund, which the transition team will determine how to administer to people affected by the shutdown of Northern Pulp. More recently, the government established phone lines people can call for emotional support (1-866-885-6540) or with questions related to employment (1-888-315-0110). Employment fairs are also scheduled around the province later this month.