Northern Pulp unlikely to meet 2020 deadline
Documents reveal company is months behind schedule necessary to hit target
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.
The Boat Harbour treatment site processes waste water from the Northern Pulp mill, seen in the background of this aerial photograph.