P.E.I. and N.S. Fishermen Concerned with Proposed Plan to Pump Treated Effluent into Northumberland Strait
Above photo: Northern Pulp in Pictou, N.S., is planning to replace the aging effluent treatment facility used by its mill. Its current plan involves pumping treated waste water into the Northumberland Strait, which has angered the fishing and tourism industry. Fishing organizations on both the N.S. and P.E.I. sides of the Strait fear the treated fresh water will harm larval shellfish and finfish. Photos submitted by the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association.
A major industrial project gearing up in Pictou County, N.S., is causing a great deal of concern for fishermen on the opposite side of the Northumberland Strait in Prince Edward Island.
The project, if approved, would result in significant quantities of treated waste water being pumped into the Northumberland Strait on a daily basis.
Fishermen in both P.E.I. and Nova Scotia are opposed to that aspect of the project.
“This issue is not just exclusively a Nova Scotia issue. P.E.I. is intimately involved in this also,” Ian MacPherson, executive director of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association (PEIFA).
“It’s a very important issue. We’ve got an industry that’s worth a billion dollars to the Canadian economy,” he added. “Part of it is that we don’t know the outcomes, we feel this is putting a risk to the fishery that we’d like to avoid.”
Since 1967, there has been a pulp mill operating at Abercrombie Point, near the town of Pictou, N.S. It is owned and operated by Northern Pulp, a subsidiary of Paper Excellence Group.
Since its construction, the plant has piped effluent from its production processes to a facility in the nearby community of Boat Harbour for treatment. The provincial government owns the Boat Harbour facility and leases it to Northern Pulp.
However, following years of protests, lawsuits and general campaigning from people living near the treatment facility, the province passed the Boat Harbour Act in 2014. The act mandates the closure of the facility by 2020 and the start of the remediation process.
Northern Pulp has been working on its plan to comply with that mandate and recently started the public consultation phase, in which it made its proposed solution known to the public for the first time.
But a lot of people, especially those involved in the local fishing, aquaculture and tourism industries, are not happy with what they’ve been presented with.
Northern Pulp is proposing to build a new effluent treatment facility on its own land adjacent to the mill. But whereas the current system pumps its treated effluent into aerated ponds, the system the company is proposing would see the water pumped through a pipe offshore for diffusion in the Northumberland Strait.
The company has stated that the new facility will use a widely-implemented process called activated sludge treatment that will improve on the current treatment facility in a variety of ways.
It has also said it has taken into account effectiveness, environmental factors and cost in its decision regarding what type of treatment to implement.
To date, the outflow into the Northumberland Strait has garnered the most attention from opponents to the plan. But the company insists that the discharge system will meet the standards of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines in that all effluent parameters of concern will meet background concentrations of the Strait less than 100 metres from the exit pipe.
“When speaking of Northern Pulp and the new effluent treatment facility required for the mill to operate, it is not a question of forestry or fishery. As has been the case for the past 50 years in the Northumberland Strait, we can continue to have both in operation with no impact to one another’s livelihood,” stated Kathy Cloutier, director of communications for Paper Excellence.
Regardless, the PEIFA is concerned the outfall pipe will create one or more dead zones that will harm marine life passing through them, said Melanie Giffin, marine biologist and program planner with the PEIFA.
“We’ve been told anywhere from 75 million litres to 95 million litres (of effluent) a day,” Giffin said.
“The sheer volume of fresh water is a concern.”
She added, “Fresh water floats… numerous larvae float and in many cases, this would certainly be detrimental to the larvae that encounter that fresh water in a salt water environment.”
The PEIFA and its contemporary in Nova Scotia, the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, are both pushing for Northern Pulp and the Nova Scotia government, which has a significant financial stake in the project, to reconsider the outflow pipe to the strait.
The groups are pushing for a closed-loop system that would not include discharge into tide water.
But Northern Pulp has already dismissed the suggestion of a closed-loop system for a variety of reasons, including costs and that it simply wouldn’t work with the mill’s processes.
“At the onset of the design phase, a closed-loop (zero effluent) treatment alternative was immediately ruled out as it is not an option for Northern Pulp. A closed-loop system does not exist anywhere in the world for an elemental chlorine free bleached kraft pulp mill. The concept is not technically or economically achievable,” states Northern Pulp on the project website.
But the PEIFA and others say they won’t approve of any other options.
“That’s certainly our objective. We’re not there yet, but we’re certainly trying to keep the dialogue going,” MacPherson said.
“At the end of the day, we think that if the fishing community, Northern Pulp and Paper, the province and the federal government all work together here then there is a solution that can work for all parties.”
But whatever solution is found, it will have to be done expediently.
Northern Pulp is expected to submit an environmental assessment to the province for review in the summer of 2018. The deadline to meet its mandate of closing Boat Harbour by 2020 is rapidly approaching.