CBC NEWS — Some companies in Nova Scotia’s forestry sector have launched a lobby group to support restarting the idle pulp mill in Pictou County.

The group, called Friends of a New Northern Pulp, launched a website and social media pages this week to build support for Northern Pulp’s new $350-million plan to reopen the mill

“We’d like to see the public at least give them a fair shake and have a look at their proposal with an open mind,” said group chair Robin Wilber.

Wilber has a stake in this. His sawmill, Elmsdale Lumber, sold wood chips to Northern Pulp.

Others on the group’s steering committee also operate businesses impacted by the shutdown.

Why Northern Pulp closed

The mill in Abercrombie Point closed in 2020 when the Nova Scotia government carried through on a commitment to shut down the mill’s effluent treatment system in Boat Harbour next to the Pictou Landing First Nation.

A replacement plan to pump treated effluent into the Northumberland Strait was a non-starter for skeptical fishermen and environmentalists. The proposal, with a price tag of $120 million, was in the midst of an environmental review when the existing treatment facility was forced to close by government.

Mill moves to Plan B

Northern Pulp’s parent company, Paper Excellence, has now proposed a redesigned mill that it says would use less water and chemicals, and produce less carbon and have no odour in normal operating conditions.

It also says the advanced on-site wastewater treatment system — which would be the second of its kind in Canada — would add a third level of effluent treatment consisting of rotating disc filters to ensure “the highest quality water release and colour removal.”

The Nova Scotia government has decided the project will undergo a Class 2 provincial environmental assessment, which can take 275 days.

“That’s the most difficult one to pass,” said Wilber. “And if they do, Nova Scotians should have a warm and fuzzy feeling that this is environmentally sound. These decisions should not be based on politics or uneducated rhetoric that’s happened in the past.”

But the proposal has already run into headwinds with some members of Pictou town council who object to the plan to release treated effluent into Pictou harbour.

Skeptics remain

“I think that putting any effluent into our harbour in 2021 is unacceptable,” said Coun. Melinda MacKenzie.

“It would be extremely detrimental to have another industry polluting this body of water which feeds into the Northumberland Strait and its rich fishing grounds. So that’s my stance. I absolutely do not support a pipe.”

MacKenzie acknowledged the economic pain caused by the mill shutdown and said she is not surprised a lobby group has formed in hopes of restarting the operation.

“I know that it’s not been easy for them with little to no market for their waste wood, and there would be some serious concern here. However, I do think that our government needs to do more to look for other solutions for waste wood,” she said.

Who is behind the lobby group

Wilber said neither the industry nor government have found a replacement for the market lost when the mill closed.

The other members of the Friends of a New Northern Pulp steering committee are Peter Spicer of Seven Gulches Forestry, Ryan Scott of Scott & Stewart Forestry, Andy MacGregor of MacGregor’s Industrial Group, and woodlot owner Earle Miller.

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