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EDITORIAL: Pulp fiction or pipe dream?

This section of land next to the current Boat Harbour Treatment Facility has been cleared in preparation for the construction of infrastructure needed to conduct pilot testing for the remediation project.
This section of land next to the current Boat Harbour Treatment Facility has been cleared in preparation for the construction of infrastructure needed to conduct pilot testing for the remediation project. - Adam MacInnis

Northern Pulp is proposing to solve its effluent issue by shifting the problem from a lagoon at Boat Harbour into a major fisheries zone.

Until some five years ago, the biggest environmental impact on Prince Edward Island from the pulp mill near Pictou, N.S. was the stench arriving on a southeast wind. The odour issue was largely solved after the Nova Scotia government pressured the mill to reduce its emissions. Today, a much more serious environmental threat looms.

It’s not stinky sulphur, but plans to pump more than 70 million litres of effluent daily from the mill by undersea pipe into the Northumberland Strait. Northern Pulp is proposing to solve its effluent issue by shifting the problem from a lagoon at Boat Harbour into a major fisheries zone. Fishermen, tourism operators, environmentalists and others in both provinces have legitimate concerns.

For 50 years, the mill dumped effluent into the Boat Harbour lagoon. Protests by nearby Pictou Landing First Nations about the environmental hazard resulted in the province passing legislation forcing the mill to shut down the lagoon by 2020 and find another solution.

That solution is abbreviated treatment, and pumping the effluent into the Strait - a larger version of Boat Harbour. Tides and currents will carry effluent both east and west into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Cabot Strait and beyond. Lucrative lobster and other fisheries grounds will be under threat.

RELATED: P.E.I. fishermen, First Nations represented at Pictou pipe protest

The final decision will be a political one. Nova Scotia needs the mill and the 3,000 jobs that run, supply or support the plant. Northern Pulp did an assessment which suggests few problems from its pipe plan. Nova Scotia is conducting an environmental study, expected to back up the mill’s research.

N.S. Premier Stephen McNeil will come down on the side of the mill, 3,000 jobs and his provincial economy. Perhaps the mill could be re-tooled to produce more environmentally friendly products, using less water and bleach. The costs would be significant but worthwhile.

Assessments by mill and province are not good enough, as both are tainted by bias. What we need is a full, rigorous, federal environmental impact study. P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan has been active on this file from the start of the pipe debate, and has outlined the Island’s concerns. Last Friday, the same day as massive protests in Pictou against the pipe plan, Premier MacLauchlan released a letter where he called for a federal environmental study.

Federal Fisheries Minister Dominique LeBlanc will support the findings of the provincial assessment. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna seems agreeable to ordering a federal study. N.S. fears that will delay the pipe option and the mill may simply close and take 3,000 jobs with it.

A N.S. politician started tossing red herrings around this week, bringing up P.E.I.’s dirty laundry about agricultural pollution of the Strait, and suggesting the province should mind its own business. Our premier, P.E.I. politicians of all stripes and Island fishermen are doing just that, because the pipe debate is our business.

Science should make the final decision, so an unbiased, federal study is essential. We must not roll the dice on a potential ecological disaster waiting to happen.

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