Even though the smell and smog spewing out of Northern Pulp has faded this summer, a Pictou activist group remains skeptical the pulp mill’s emissions will stay out of their lungs for long.
“It’s not a big issue in the town of Pictou any more, except for the people who comment, ‘Oh isn’t this nice we can breathe today and the sun is shining with blue sky and blue water,'” said Anne Emmett of Clean the Mill.
“So the issue has sort of died, but we certainly know underneath this is nowhere near the end of it.”
Emmett’s group aggressively lobbied the provincial government last summer, prompting a series of promises from Premier Stephen McNeil and Environment Minister Randy Delorey.
In May, Northern Pulp installed a precipitator — the big piece of equipment designed to reduce emissions at the mill. The equipment is currently being fine-tuned, a process that is expected to be finished by Oct. 16.
Until that deadline is reached and test results show improvements, local activists continue to voice concerns.
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“For decades Pictou County has watched stall plan after stall plan in effect,” said Matt Gunning of Clean the Mill.
“This government promised they’d be different than that, and what we’re seeing is apparently more stall plans,”
Earlier this month, the province proved it is in fact wafflingwhen officials agreed to scale back restrictions as part of the industrial approval.
“They are making promises and they sound fantastic, but then when the due date comes, those promises aren’t worth the paper they’re written on because they just you know, ‘Oh scrap that ministerial order and we’ll just write a new one,’ or, ‘Oh you failed to meet that deadline? We’ll just give you new one,” Gunning said.
“Pictou County is starting to get tired of seeing that and what we want to see is some accountability within the government.”
Tourism not affected
As residents of Pictou wait to see whether the pulp mill reaches compliance levels, tourists don’t seem bothered.
Emmett admits she thought visitors would be turned away from Pictou after months of negativity toward Northern Pulp and its impact on the small town.
“We were really shooting ourselves in the foot by going public,” she said.
“It went right across the country and CBC obviously ran with it for several months. And yeah, we were very concerned that we would be hurting ourselves but that hasn’t happened, which we’re very fortunate and very thankful for. So far, so good.”
Emmett says summer bookings at The Braeside Inn, which she runs with her husband, are better than last year.