PORT HOOD: Inverness Municipal Council’s letter of support for Northern Pulp, a pulp mill in Pictou County, to be granted a one-year extension to a deadline for the construction of a new effluent treatment facility resulted in some pushback.
Heather Davis and Paul Strome spoke to council about the matter last Thursday. Davis was representing the Healthy Forest Coalition, a group with a mandate to raise the public’s awareness of the state of forests and the need to reform of forest policy. Strome is a board member of the Council of Canadians, a group that advocates for several causes including clean water and green energy.
Both Davis and Strome spoke against the letter council sent to Premier Stephen McNeil and Minister of Lands and Forestry Margaret Miller.
As things now stand, Northern Pulp must close its current treatment facility by January 31, 2020. The mill says it needs an extension to work through environmental assessments and for the construction of the treatment facility. Council’s letter supported the request.
One of the prompting factors council gave for supporting Northern Pulp was to safeguard forestry jobs in Inverness County.
Davis questioned the economic impact of Northern Pulp’s closure on Inverness County. She noted that she contacted the councillors by e-mail, asking each of them to flesh out what job losses would come to their area.
“None of you were able to give me any known job losses at this time, and to state in your letter that ‘it would be economically devastating for Inverness County’ might have been pre-emptive,” she said.
All crown land that’s not protected by legislation in the county is leased to Port Hawkesbury Paper, therefore forestry should be able to continue if Northern Pulp closes down, she said.
She noted that the impact on the fishery would potentially be terrible, if Northern Pulp follows through on its current plans for an effluent treatment facility.
“I have two requests,” she said. “I respectfully ask council to set up a working group to look at our forestry industry in the future, whether Northern Pulp continues to operate or not, and to build more local jobs in forestry, whether it be support of sawmills or through encouraging residents to build spinoff opportunities for the multi-use of crown land.
“I also respectfully ask council to rescind the letter to leave Boat Harbour [the current site of Northern Pulp’s effluent treatment facility] open for another year, and send another letter asking the provincial government to implement the Lahey Report in cooperation with the Inverness County Forestry Working Group that you’ll hopefully set up.”
The Lahey Report is an independent review of the forest practices in Nova Scotia that was released in August of 2018.
For Strome’s part, he offered to buy council members lunch if they were willing to travel to Pictou with him and eat it downwind from Northern Pulp. He said it was unlikely any of them would be able to finish their meal.
“So far, we are looking at $650 million that we’ve given to this mill over the years in freebees,” Strome said. “We’ve given them that, and we’re here talking about jobs? We could have given all these employees a million bucks a piece and told them to go home for the next 30 years.”
Strome said that Northern Pulp has a long history of being protested, and he said he considers the matter to boil down to environmental racism.
“It was built and First Nations land illegally,” he said. “That has been forgotten about.”
Strome said Inverness Council has a legacy of supporting environmental and First Nations causes, including Raising the Villages and the Blue Dot Movement. Supporting Northern Pulp’s plan to drop effluence in waters off the coast contradicts those movements, Strome said.
“In 2015, there was an all party resolution to close Boat Harbour in January of 2020,” he said. “What’s the mill’s solution? Put in an 11 kilometer toxic effulgent pipe to discard it right into the Northumberland Strait. They’ve had five years to do this. Enough is enough.
“The minister of the environment reviewed the clean effluent proposal twice, and there were 19 different things that the mill had not addressed at all.”
Strome said there are a number of people in Inverness County who are very well educated on environmental issues, and those folks can be a resource for council. He suggested council set up a climate change committee that could advise municipal leaders on matters like those relating to Northern Pulp.
Conversation around the table remained friendly, and council remains somewhat divided on the matter.
Councillor Jim Mustard said he agrees that diversifying the forest sector is a good idea. Inroads have been made in that respect by his work to see the Middle River facility repurposed.
“I think we could look at something going on around a forestry group that has some input in the municipality,” Mustard said, adding that he’s having second thoughts about supporting Northern Pulp’s request.
“We contacted Chief Andrea Paul, and we’re looking at a date when members of our council can go down and see Boat Harbour firsthand. I frankly apologize. People say I changed my mind. Well, when I made the decision I was looking through the lens of what was presented to me and not truly what it meant to make a decision on someone else’s backyard.”
Councillor Laurie Cranton said he’s also having a second look at council’s position.
“I support the environment, and I’d hate to wake up tomorrow and say the decisions we make today have closed our fishery,” he said.
Councillor John Dowling, on the other hand, said he stands behind the letter offering support to Northern Pulp.
“To me, it’s a support letter for jobs in Inverness County,” he said.