The Environment Department has meted out a penalty to Northern Pulp for exceeding the allowable emissions during a June stack test.

“As a result of the mill’s non-compliance with the industrial approval, Environment staff conducted an investigation and served a summary offence ticket to the company in the amount of $697.50,” department spokeswoman Krista Higdon said in an email Tuesday.

Dave Gunning, a founding member of the Clean Up The Pictou County Mill group, said the penalty is hardly a deterrent for a company that will spend $8 million during a 10-day maintenance and upgrade shutdown that begins Saturday.

“This is absolutely pathetic,” said Gunning, a singer-songwriter who lives in Lyons Brook, near the Abercrombie Point mill.

“I wonder if Northern Pulp will rally their ‘stakeholders’ to lobby the government for a forgivable loan to cover this enormous fine,” he said sarcastically. “Or will Northern Pulp board members have to give up their golf memberships?”

Gunning said the Environment Department has not been very effective on a number of issues around the province as of late.

“$697.50 is the same as a fine for jaywalking. This will not deter Northern Pulp from future bad behaviour in our province?”

The behaviour that landed Northern Pulp its fine is an unco-operative power boiler. The boiler tested in June at a level of 164 milligrams of particulate or fine dust emissions per reference cubic metre (164mg/RM3), exceeding the 150 mg limit allowed in the mill’s industrial approval. The June failure was the second in the past five regulatory tests conducted on the power boiler, each time coming in at less than 10 per cent over the limit.

In contrast the $35-million recovery boiler electrostatic precipitator that has been in operation for 13 months continues to perform beyond the company’s expectation. The recovery boiler has consistently tested well below the 77-milligram particulate level stipulated in the mill’s industrial approval.

“The latest stack test results at the Northern Pulp mill show that the new precipitator installed last year is working well within its compliance limits,” Higdon said. “However, the power boiler exceeded its limit.”

Kathy Cloutier, the company communications director, said the power boiler accounts for a much smaller portion of overall mill particulate than does the recovery boiler. Still, the problematic power boiler will be a focus of the shutdown upgrades, she said.

“With the precipitator’s exceptional performance, there has been over a 99 per cent improvement in particulates emitting from the recovery boiler, which mill-wide equates to an 80 per cent improvement in particulate emitted,” Cloutier said. “The power boiler is a smaller fraction of mill particulate, approximately 20 per cent, as the stack volume is significantly smaller.”

Cloutier compares the power boiler to a wood-burning stove, with the wood producing the particulate emission.

“The power boiler is a complex operating system involving bark and air,” Cloutier said. “We knew that this issue was not going to be a quick fix since beginning our work with specialists Babcock & Wilcox (B & W) regarding operational evaluation and improvement recommendations. Time and phased projects have been ongoing, leading up to significant projects that will be undertaken during the mill’s $8-million shutdown.

“The shutdown projects involve under grate air dampers, air-to-fuel dampers and air leak inspection.”

Cloutier said last month that falling short of provincial regulations is a significant frustration for mill managers.

“We are making every effort possible,” she said. “When the company has made the significant improvement with the commissioning of the precipitator, you want to have every aspect of your operation reflect that success. It’s not something that is good for the mill publicly or morale wise to be outside of the industrial approval. We want to get this resolved.”

Northern Pulp manufactures 280,000 tonnes of kraft pulp, primarily for export, every year. The mill supports thousands of jobs, including 330 employees in the mill, but it has long been the focus of opposition groups who maintain that its emissions and effluent are harmful to county residents and the environment.

In March, the company was fined $225,000 by a Pictou provincial court judge for the June 2014 leak of 47 million litres of toxic pulp mill effluent. The pipe carrying effluent from the mill to treatment lagoons at Boat Harbour ruptured, spilling waste into a wetland and into Boat Harbour.

The nearby Pictou Landing First Nation blockaded the cleanup site and demanded the closure of the mill’s treatment facility that dumps onto band property. The blockade resulted in a deal between the province and Pictou Landing, with the government promising to close the provincially owned treatment facility by 2020.