Fifty million dollars is a lot of money, but it may not be enough to pay for the Boat Harbour cleanup.
That’s according to some Pictou County residents in the know who are concerned the effluent in Boat Harbour may be more toxic than anyone knows.
On Friday, the provincial government unexpectedly announced it was cutting short Northern Pulp’s lease for the Boat Harbour effluent treatment facility.
The government will now close the facility by January 2020, rather than the closure date in the original lease, Dec. 31, 2030.
The governing Liberals have set aside $52 million to clean up Boat Harbour, which has a nasty reputation as one of the worst toxic messes in the Maritimes.
It would seem to make sense that the company causing the pollution would help pay to have Boat Harbour returned to its natural state. Nova Scotia taxpayers, however, are on the hook for paying for cleaning up Boat Harbour, something that could take 10 years to complete.
That’s because a previous government indemnified the owner of the Abercrombie Point kraft pulp operation from future responsibility for environmental remediation of Boat Harbour.
The announcement is especially important to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation, who have been living with pollution for several decades.
Last June, a pipeline that delivers Northern Pulp’s effluent to Boat Harbour was found to be leaking, and that sparked a blockade led by members of the First Nation.
The blockade ended only after the provincial government agreed to shut down the plant in short order.
But Matt Gunning, a spokesman for the environmental group Clean the Mill, says he doesn’t want to get too excited until the details of the remediation plan are released.
Clean the Mill supports the early shutdown and cleanup of the treatment facility, Gunning told me Friday, but the group is also concerned about maintaining jobs at Northern Pulp.
The pulp mill employs about 200 workers directly and several hundred more forestry workers, and Gunning says that part of the province can ill afford to lose any more jobs.
In a separate matter, an important part of the company’s equipment designed to mitigate air pollution was not working all last summer, to the detriment of the local tourism industry and residents worried about the health effects of the air pollution.
As a result, earlier this year, the government attached tough new air pollution guidelines on the operating licence for Northern Pulp, which the company will appeal.
Gunning says he doesn’t know where the pulp plant’s effluent will go after Boat Harbour is closed. He expects another treatment facility will have to be built, taking about $100 million to build, and he’s not sure who will pay.
Area residents are also concerned Boat Harbour may contain more than just effluent from the pulp mill. A company called Canso Chemicals, located near the pulp mill, experienced a mysterious mercury leak in the 1980s that has not been resolved.
The concern is that mercury has made its way into Boat Harbour, thus complicating any cleanup.
One thing is clear: The concerns about pollution in Pictou County are not over, despite Friday’s Boat Harbour announcement.