The News (New Glasgow)
Conflict stalls Boat Harbour cleanup
Where do you put half a million tonnes of toxic sludge?
The Pictou Landing First Nation (PLFN) doesn't want a half-century of accumulated Northern Pulp and Canso Chemicals pollution in their backyard anymore.
Build Nova Scotia, the provincial agency tasked with cleaning up the former Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility, wants to drain/treat the water from it, put the sludge in an expanded containment cell onsite and cap it.
As the two appear deadlocked, the federal environmental assessment on cleaning up the province's most polluted site is stalled and what was originally predicted to be a $300-million price tag is heading north.
“(Pictou Landing First Nation) has informed the agency and the proponent that they do not support the use of the existing containment cell as the permanent storage facility for the remediated materials,” reads an information request sent from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) to Build Nova Scotia two years ago.
“PLFN owns a 29.14-hectare land parcel, located approximately seven kilometres west of New Glasgow. PLFN identified this parcel as a potential alternative location for the containment cell and provided this information to the proponent for review.”
While the agency didn't identify the land parcel, a search of property records by The Chronicle Herald shows that a development corporation associated with Pictou Landing took ownership last year of a 29.14-hectare parcel of land, approximately seven kilometres due west of New Glasgow on the Granton Abercrombie Road.
The parcel is one of two adjacent parcels owned by PLFN ELUKUTIEK GP that are directly opposite the Pictou Shelter of the SPCA.
The Pictou Landing First Nation did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the executive summary of the project initially submitted by Build Nova Scotia, there’s about a million cubic metres of accumulated polluted sludge they would collect from Boat Harbour, drain and treat the water from.
Once dried, it shrinks to between 312,500 and 517,700 cubic metres of “sludge impacted with metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxins/furans (D&F).”
That’s between 31,000 and 51,000 dump truckloads.
The Pictou Landing First Nation has been forced to live beside pollution it never wanted for half a century.
But does anybody else want it next door?
Residents of the Granton Abercrombie Road contacted by The Chronicle Herald said neither the Pictou Landing First Nation nor the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada had notified them of the proposal.
“I think we should be consulted,” said Fred Barkhouse, who lives about a kilometre from the land parcel.
“Why would you want that contaminated sludge next to you?”
According to Build Nova Scotia, it has responded to all of the 100-plus information requests from the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, except for the one about sending the sludge somewhere else.
That information request (IR82) from the federal agency requires Build Nova Scotia: “Provide an analysis of the technical and economic feasibility of the alternative containment cell location proposed by PLFN. The analysis should consider factors such as environmental impacts, cost, regulatory requirements, timing, risk, public concerns, and impacts to PLFN. Sufficient information should be provided to support any assumptions or conclusions made in the analysis. Provide PLFN the opportunity to comment on the analysis and clearly demonstrate how comments were addressed.”
Asked whether it had a position on where the sludge goes, Build Nova Scotia responded in writing with, “This position will be addressed in the response to Information Requirement 82 when it is formally filed with and accepted by IAAC. Please note that IR82 requires feedback from PLFN.”
Build Nova Scotia did not say when it will respond to IR82, which was received over two years ago.
Build Nova Scotia filed its project application in 2019 and faced running out the statutory three-year time limit on its federal environmental assessment process last year.
In its application for an extension last year, Build Nova Scotia accused the federal regulator of rarely including it in discussions with the Pictou Landing First Nation regarding the environmental assessment and raised concerns about not being included in discussions regarding seeking another site for Boat Harbour’s sludge.
“We were advised that these meetings (between the Impact Assessment Agency and Pictou Landing) only ever involved discussions around the environmental assessment process,” reads a letter signed by Ken Swain, project lead on the Boat Harbour Remediation Project.
“However, it became apparent in 2021 that there was significant discussion and engagement around the issue which led to the development of IR82 (the request to find another location for sludge). It is clear there was discussion between IAAC and PLFN of a significant project component alternative issue in the absence of the proponent.”
The letter goes on to criticize the agency for sending round after round (four in total so far) of information requests that each required further study without giving any timeline on when the questions will stop coming.
“This concern may be exacerbated by the fact that while the agency (information requests) are posted to the public registry, none of the proponent responses are posted,” states Swain’s letter.
“Given the current economic environment, the proponent and its government stakeholders recognize the cost escalation, attributable to delayed project implementation pending an environmental assessment decision, and the concomitant impact it is having on taxpayers’ future spending. The proponent has a need to understand at least an outline of next steps.”
The agency ultimately approved the extension request until 2024, however, it provided no commitment as to when the information requests would stop coming.
The project was estimated to cost taxpayers, both federal and provincial, $300 million in 2019 when the province first submitted its environmental application.
With that number growing, the agency will not provide an estimate on when it will stop ordering new information requests.
Only once these requests stop coming, can the environmental assessment process continue.
“The agency is awaiting the proponent’s completed response to the information request 82 that includes the technical evaluation of an alternative disposal site, and the views of Pictou Landing First Nation on this evaluation,” reads a written response from the agency to The Chronicle Herald’s questions.
“Time taken by the proponent to complete its work or provide information is not included in the timeframe in which the minister must issue a decision statement on the project. During this time, the timeline is paused.”
If and when the project is approved, Build Nova Scotia anticipates it taking four to seven years to complete. However, that was assuming onsite containment of the sludge.