A county divided
Councillors line up on opposing sides of Northern Pulp debate
The future of the Boat Harbour treatment facility is, as one Pictou County councillor put it, outside the municipality’s bailiwick.
And yet councillors found themselves debating the issue Monday night and eventually voting in support of the Boat Harbour Act, which gives Northern Pulp a January 2020 deadline to close the Boat Harbour facility, and have a new effluent treatment process in place.
These councillors may have no say in the decision-making on whether to grant Northern Pulp an extension, but they also have no escape from the controversy that has pitted two of rural Pictou County’s primary industries against each other. Fishing and forestry touch every district.
The motion for the resolution was first made by Wayne Murray and seconded by Darla MacKeil. Murray described Boat Harbour as one of the worst environmental disasters in Canada and said the five-year window that Northern Pulp was given to build a new treatment facility should have been more than enough. Three of the councillors opposed the resolution.
Coun. Randy Palmer said he completely agrees that Boat Harbour should be closed but expressed concern about holding a hard line on the deadline. He said he has friends and constituents who are employed in both the fishing and forestry industries.
“In the county we can’t afford to lose either industry,” he said.
While the resolution didn’t say anything about the proposed effluent pipe going in the Northumberland Strait or the future treatment plant, Palmer said they’re connected.
“If the pipe doesn’t go out there in a certain time and the mill can’t get up and running and has to shut down for a period of time, we could lose all those jobs,” he said.
Coun. Andy Thompson also voted against the resolution. Like Palmer, he agreed that the contamination of Boat Harbour “should never have happened,” but said he was concerned about the impact that losing the mill would have on Pictou County.
“My objection to the motion is not with the intent to close Boat Harbour. My concern is about ... the economy of our county.”
Coun. Darla MacKeil said a documentary about Boat Harbour by an Australian filmmaker left a lasting impression on her about the effects of the treatment facility and is part of the reason why she believes the province must stick to the deadline mandated in the Boat Harbour Act.
“It really blew my mind of the devastation and destruction it has caused,” she said.
She said that she believes that “when you know better, you do better” and that’s why she said she was in favour of the motion.
“I believe that Pictou Landing First Nation community has lived with that for far too long and I believe that residents of our community have lived with that for far too long ... We have to have a voice for the environment. Who is going to speak for it?”
Warden Robert Parker said it’s sad to see how the controversy has divided the community.
“We know we need the jobs, but we also want a decent place to live whether it be water or air or whatever,” he said.
He said he would support the resolution.
“We cannot lose those jobs, but we cannot continue to punish the people of Pictou Landing,” he said. “This has gone on for far too long.”
Northern Pulp has been both a source of controversy and economic activity in Pictou County.