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LETTERS: Northern Pulp mill on minds of Nova Scotians as deadline looms

Northern Pulp is a political nightmare that will make a lot of people unhappy no matter what the premier does. - Christian Laforce / File
Northern Pulp - Christian Laforce / File

Hold fast on mill pledge, Premier McNeil

The response by police, fire and hazmat crews to a report of noxious fumes in a car parked behind a Sobeys store in Dartmouth (Nov. 22 story) was immediate and appropriate. The fumes were identified as toxic hydrogen sulphide, a corrosive and poisonous chemical. People involved were treated in hospital and the source of fumes removed.

This incident made me wonder if Nova Scotians realize (or care) that since 1967 to present day, the people of Pictou Landing, native and non-native together, have been living daily in the presence of hydrogen sulphide fumes rising from the effluent at Boat Harbour.

For decades, the hot effluent ran through the community in open ditches to the settling ponds, spewing its toxic fumes. Although much of that open ditch has now been covered, toxic fumes containing hydrogen sulphide continue to come off the settling and aeration ponds to hover over the community to this day.

Particularly toxic in the heavier marine-evening air in summer, these fumes snake into homes, even though all windows are — and must be — closed; for even in 32C summer evenings, one cannot open the windows to feel the joy of sea breezes.

Residents have complained to no avail for decades to the mill and to government about these fumes causing burning eyes, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and feelings of suffocation. White laundry on a line would be brown in the morning from the hydrogen sulphide. For over 50 years, continuous complaints landed on deaf ears; the only response received from the current, and previous, mill management was confirmation that hydrogen sulphide was (one of several chemicals) being released into the air; and from previous government(s) nothing, except the Hamm Progressive Conservative government, which responded by extending the contract (originally scheduled to close Boat Harbour in 2005) for its use as an effluent dumping area for yet another 25 years.

Both entities are, and were, fully aware of the dangers to human health, both immediate and over time, yet not only did they do nothing to stop it, they sought ways to discourage any investigation such as a health study, or publicity.

That this situation has been allowed to continue for five decades is criminal. The only premier in 50 years willing to see the injustice and the very real health concerns of this toxic pit, and do something, in spite of possible political backlash, is Stephen McNeil, who has promised to close Boat Harbour by the end of January 2020.

The price for this mill that the people of Pictou and area have paid in terms of poor health (due to both the stacks and Boat Harbour), decreased quality of life, declining home values, threatened and destroyed fish habitat, lost income from tourism, and environmentally in lost recreational beaches and contaminated Strait waters, has been far too high. This has gone on far too long.

Basic rights — to clean air and clean water — have been totally disregarded.

I can only hope that Premier McNeil will stand tall and hold to his promise, and that a new leaf will rightly be turned over for the sake of the environment, and for all the residents whose entire lives have been destroyed by the Almighty Dollar and political gain.

Barbara Seplaki, Goshen

Mill well-monitored

Northern Pulp is one of 89 pulp and paper mills in Canada. The environmental performance of all is scrutinized, monitored and regulated. Northern Pulp’s performance is in line with these mills currently running throughout the country. In fact, some of the pulp mills are performing below Northern Pulp’s current system, before the mill invests millions of dollars to make it better.

All 89 Canadian mills discharge treated effluent while meeting environmental standards, most into rivers or lakes. The Northumberland Strait is a massive receiving area, providing tremendous dilution by comparison. The Strait has received treated effluent from the Pictou mill for 52 years with no adverse impact on the fishery.

Northern Pulp has an excellent export market for its unique product and brings badly needed revenue into the province. This cash is distributed through thousands of working Nova Scotians who directly and indirectly rely on the mill, which ends up creating prosperity while supporting social programs that many Nova Scotians count on.

Approval of the government-run Boat Harbour cleanup is years behind schedule and closing the mill will not get the cleanup done faster. The latest owners who inherited this problem in 2011 are determined to replace the Boat Harbour facility with a world-class effluent treatment plant. A moving-target approval process has ballooned from seven studies initially requested to 52, which substantiates the scientific conclusions of the project. The environmental assessment submitted to the Department of Environment for approval was prepared by some of the most reputable environmental engineering companies in Canada.

This is not a case of jobs vs. the environment. All that is required is the time to get it right.

Joel MacLaggan, Beaver Bank

Mill spinoffs substantial

This letter takes the opposite tack of many that are published in your paper. Those letter writers complain about Northern Pulp and the situation that is unfolding in Pictou County. But Northern Pulp also affects what happens in our small community on the South Shore.

I own and have operated a C-store in Greenfield for close to 32 years. My family and I, along with a dozen other workers, keep our business open an average of 15 hours a day, serving an important mix of local residents, seasonal visitors and the workers and suppliers to our local sawmill. This sawmill has been one of the largest employers on the South Shore for generations. 

But the beating heart of  this small community could be affected by developments at the Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie. Our mill relies on trucking valuable revenue in the form of woodchips to this Northern Pulp for processing. Without Northern Pulp, mills in Nova Scotia generally have no place for their valuable byproducts. This would hurt the overall viability of sawmill forestry and the hundreds of millions in spinoffs and tax revenue.   

Sure, something needs to be done at Northern Pulp to better manage its environmental impact. Sure, the mill has been given time to do so. But a shutdown could cause many other problems. Hundreds of businesses will be hurt by this. Every day, dozens of trucks that haul byproducts, value-added lumber and even bark and sawdust, used to produce power, go by our convenience store. 

On weekdays, our morning starts at 6 a.m. because truck drivers stop in for their hot coffee and lunches. A little later, the workers from the mill stop in for daily sustenance. Throughout the day, a variety of individuals drop by and honour us by giving us their business. As well, locals and visitors stop in for many things that we are able to provide because we are open longer hours. 

Promoting safe environmental policies is paramount, but promoting and keeping valuable jobs in Nova Scotia is just as important. The government complains it doesn't have enough money to provide the services we want. How will those services be paid for when $200-million-plus dollars in tax revenue is gone?  Maybe we should start getting ready to ask less of our government, if many get their way in this matter and Northern Pulp is no more, and Freeman's and other mills stop producing.   

Some of the people who complain about Northern Pulp are my customers, and their opinion is valued, but so are solutions to keeping our forestry industry strong and providing much-needed jobs and revenue to our province.   

Stewart Jenkins Greenfield

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