North­ern Pulp un­likely to meet 2020 dead­line

Doc­u­ments re­veal com­pany is months be­hind sched­ule nec­es­sary to hit tar­get

The News (New Glasgow) - - FRONT PAGE - BY AARON BESWICK

North­ern Pulp’s re­place­ment ef­flu­ent treat­ment fa­cil­ity ap­pears to be much fur­ther be­hind sched­ule than pub­licly thought.

A 2017 pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tant’s re­port ob­tained by SaltWire Net­work through a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act re­quest says that in or­der to meet Jan. 31, 2020, leg­is­lated clo­sure of Boat Har­bour, the mill would have needed to re­ceive ap­proval to con­struct its new ef­flu­ent treat­ment plant by May 7 of this year.

De­lays find­ing an ef­flu­ent dis­charge route means the mill doesn’t ex­pect to reg­is­ter its en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment un­til some­time in Jan­uary.

As­sum­ing the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment doesn’t seek ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion from the mill, a Class 1 en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment takes 50 days. How­ever, a fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment takes to­ward a year to com­plete.

Four Mar­itime se­na­tors came out sup­port­ing a fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment.

Then in a Nov. 30 rul­ing de­mand­ing the prov­ince con­sult the Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tion on its con­tin­ued fund­ing of North­ern Pulp’s new ef­flu­ent treat­ment plant, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Jus­tice Ti­mothy Gabriel also ques­tioned the prov­ince as both the fun­der and reg­u­la­tor of the new fa­cil­ity.

“We have seen that even the ap­pear­ance of sharp deal­ing is to be avoided,” wrote Gabriel. “... To put it more bluntly, in the event that the prov­ince were to be­come the lender fi­nanc­ing the pro­ject, it would have a very tan­gi­ble in­ter­est in North­ern Pulp’s success.”

Pa­per Ex­cel­lence spokes­woman Kathy Cloutier said Wed­nes­day the com­pany is fine with the pro­ject go­ing to a more lengthy fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment so long as they get an ex­ten­sion on the use of Boat Har­bour.

“This is not new, this is truly proven tech­nol­ogy,” said Cloutier. “The best design ex­perts have de­signed it and the best ven­dors will be con­struct­ing it.”

Ac­ti­vated sludge treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties like the one pro­posed by North­ern Pulp are op­er­ated at four Bri­tish Columbia kraft pulp mills, two in Que­bec and one in Al­berta. Each of those mills have ef­flu­ent pipes drain­ing into rivers or salt water.

Pre­mier Stephen McNeil has re­peat­edly said his gov­ern­ment won’t grant an ex­ten­sion al­low­ing the mill to con­tinue to use Boat Har­bor with­out sup­port from the Pic­tou Land­ing First Na­tion. Chief An­drea Paul has been firm in her com­mit­ment that Boat Har­bor be shut down by Jan. 31, 2020.

That leaves the loom­ing prospect of a pro­longed North­ern Pulp shut­down.

“This type of equip­ment is not meant to be idle for lengthy pe­ri­ods of time,” said Cloutier of the ef­fect of a pro­longed shut­down on the costs and time frame as­so­ci­ated with restart­ing the mill.

North­ern Pulp pur­chased slightly over one mil­lion tonnes of wood chips and pulp­wood in 2017 — about 29,000 trac­tor trailer loads.

“It would dis­rupt the whole wood har­vest­ing ar­range­ment that’s in the prov­ince right now,” said Stan Ma­son, man­ager of He­fler For­est Prod­ucts in Mid­dle Sackville. “I don’t know what it would do — it de­pends on how many con­trac­tors stay in busi­ness, how many go out of busi­ness.”

While He­fler For­est Prod­ucts burns its chips as biomass to pro­duce en­ergy, most other sawmills in the prov­ince sell theirs to North­ern Pulp or Port Hawkes­bury Pa­per. Of the two mills, North­ern Pulp is by far the largest pur­chaser of wood chips.

Mean­while, har­vest­ing con­trac­tors who sup­ply both North­ern Pulp and sawmills tend to carry large debts on their equip­ment and pay­ments on those don’t stop dur­ing a shut­down of pur­chas­ing by the mill.

“The sur­prise to me is how the dis­cus­sion has changed over last cou­ple months,” said Ma­son. “Be­fore it just seemed North­ern Pulp was go­ing along with the process, that it would get done and that there was some op­po­si­tion. Now it’s in the news ev­ery day. The op­po­si­tion is stronger and stronger. It has a flavour that the gov­ern­ment has thrown up their hands and that North­ern Pulp has thrown up their hands.”

The pre­lim­i­nary en­gi­neer­ing re­port pro­duced by KSH Con­sult­ing con­tained de­tailed cost break­downs for the new fa­cil­ity. Those de­tails were all redacted by gov­ern­ment in the copy ob­tained by SaltWire Net­work.

The prov­ince owns Boat Har­bour and leases it to North­ern Pulp.

That lease doesn’t ex­pire un­til the end of 2030. Emails sent in­ter­nally be­tween gov­ern­ment staffers and ex­ter­nally to KSH Con­sult­ing and North­ern Pulp ob­tained through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act show ef­forts to es­tab­lish how much the tax­payer is on the hook for can­celling the lease early.

They show that so far the prov­ince has spent $5.54 mil­lion on design work for the new fa­cil­ity and out­fall with­out any cor­re­spond­ing con­tri­bu­tion from North­ern Pulp.

“This was agreed to on the ba­sis that it counts to­ward an agree­ment or set­tle­ment,” reads an email sent by Nova Scotia Lands VP Jo Ann Fewer on June 1, 2018, an­swer­ing ques­tions from se­nior bu­reau­crats at the De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion and In­fras­truc­ture Re­newal.

Those emails con­tain redacted cost es­ti­mates for the new fa­cil­ity that ap­pear to be over a hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars judg­ing by the amount of spa­ces blacked out.

FILE PHOTO

The Boat Har­bour treat­ment site pro­cesses waste water from the North­ern Pulp mill, seen in the back­ground of this aerial pho­to­graph.

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