For­est sec­tor will fight for North­ern Pulp

Annapolis Valley Register - - NEWS - Jim Vib­ert, a jour­nal­ist and writer for longer than he cares to ad­mit, con­sulted or worked for five Nova Sco­tia gov­ern­ments. He now keeps a close and crit­i­cal eye on pro­vin­cial and re­gional pow­ers.

The bat­tle lines are drawn, but the bat­tle is not yet joined.

When Nova Sco­tia Premier Stephen McNeil con­ceded in year-end in­ter­views that the fu­ture of North­ern Pulp’s Pic­tou County mill is very much in doubt, his words didn’t sur­prise the prov­ince’s forestry sec­tor, but they still sent a shiver down its col­lec­tive spine.

The same con­ces­sion glad­dened the hearts of the mill’s long list of de­trac­tors, who clearly have the up­per hand at the mo­ment, but again, the bat­tle is not yet joined.

The prov­ince’s po­lit­i­cally-po­tent forestry sec­tor won’t sit idly by and al­low that mill to close.

North­ern Pulp is ex­pected to sub­mit its plan for a new ef­flu­ent treat­ment sys­tem – re­plac­ing the in­fa­mous Boat Har­bour fa­cil­ity – to the pro­vin­cial En­vi­ron­ment De­part­ment for as­sess­ment by the end of this month.

If the plan is ap­proved, the com­pany still faces an im­pos­si­ble dead­line to get the new treat­ment sys­tem up and run­ning be­fore Boat Har­bour is shut down – by law – at the end of Jan­uary 2020.

In­dus­try in­sid­ers es­ti­mate North­ern Pulp will need, at min­i­mum, an ad­di­tional 18 months be­yond the dead­line to com­plete the new treat­ment sys­tem. That would re­quire the prov­ince to ex­tend the dead­line it en­shrined in law in 2015.

McNeil has been adamant that won’t hap­pen, and Boat Har­bour will shut down on sched­ule in just over a year. With no way to treat its ef­flu­ent, North­ern Pulp would have to cease op­er­a­tions and, the same in­dus­try in­sid­ers say, if it shuts down at all, it will al­most cer­tainly be for good.

To sur­vive then, North­ern Pulp needs both a favourable en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment from the prov­ince and an ex­ten­sion of the dead­line to shut down Boat Har­bour, also from the prov­ince.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment is sup­posed to be be­yond the reach of pol­i­tics. The sci­ence de­cides and those in a po­si­tion to know say North­ern Pulp has done its home­work and will sub­mit a state-of-theart treat­ment plan.

But, given the plan in­cludes pump­ing treated ef­flu­ent into the Northum­ber­land Strait for dis­per­sal, a pos­i­tive as­sess­ment would be in­cred­i­bly un­pop­u­lar with fish­er­men and, it would seem, with most folks who live on or near the Northum­ber­land shore.

Un­like the as­sess­ment of the new treat­ment plan, the Boat Har­bour dead­line is a purely po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion. The pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment es­tab­lished it in law and the prov­ince can ex­tend it by amend­ing the same law.

If it comes down to that, the pres­sure on the prov­ince to do so and save the mill will be in­tense. Lib­eral MLAs will hear from saw mill op­er­a­tors, wood­lot own­ers and the men and women who earn a liv­ing in both.

In Hal­i­fax, the forestry sec­tor has pow­er­ful friends in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, in the big law firms and among the eco­nomic-elite who’ve al­ways had the ear of pre­miers and are ac- cus­tomed to be­ing heard.

Armed with a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment – as­sum­ing North­ern Pulp’s plan gets the green light – all of those forces will be brought to bear on the gov­ern­ment to ex­tend Boat Har­bour and save the Aber­crom­bie Point pulp mill.

And, the gov­ern­ment will face that de­ci­sion at a time when the pro­vin­cial econ­omy is, to be char­i­ta­ble, slug­gish. The Con­fer­ence Board of Canada pre­dicts Nova Sco­tia will trail the coun­try in econ­omy growth this year, at an ane­mic 0.9 per cent.

In a weak econ­omy, the prov­ince’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to stick to its guns and its dead­line will be tested.

The mill has eco­nomic ten­ta­cles that stretch across the prov­ince, into most saw mills and many wood­lots. Its clo­sure will hit the sec­tor hard and be felt be­yond, in places like the port of Hal­i­fax where North­ern Pulp is the largest sin­gle ship­per.

If the premier and the dead­line are in­deed un­move­able, the best out­come is a speedy end to this drama. Then the play­ers that re­main in the forestry sec­tor can get to work on what­ever tran­si­tions they need to make to sur­vive and ad­just to the loss of a main­stay.

How­ever all of this plays out, in ad­di­tion to the eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, the prov­ince needs to con­sider the com­mu­ni­ties that are bit­terly di­vided by this is­sue and bring it to a speedy res­o­lu­tion.

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