CANADIAN PRESS — The province made the announcement Monday, saying in a news release it will remove “all sludge material” from the Boat Harbour’s effluent treatment facility’s aeration stabilization basins.

Paper Excellence closed the Northern Pulp mill in January 2020 after the company failed to meet a deadline set by the provincial government to stop pumping mill byproducts into Boat Harbour.

The company had planned to build a new treatment facility that would divert byproducts away from the harbour. However, those plans were squashed after the company’s environmental assessment was rejected for less-than-sound science.

Paper Excellence was then forced to shut down the mill after then-Premier Stephen McNeil rejected its request for more time to complete its report.

The provincial government had ordered Northern Pulp to come up with a plan for removing and disposing of the solid waste it left behind in ditches, settling basins, and aeration basins.

The company was supposed to submit that plan no later than August 1, 2020, but it missed that deadline after it discovered a previously unknown layer of sludge in the aeration stabilization basin.

When that happened, the government gave Northern Pulp an extension, to February 28, 2021. But the government says the company still hasn’t submitted a “complete” plan to clean up its mess.

The province said it will now take on the cleanup itself to “ensure the job is completed in a timely way, and provide clarity and closure to Pictou Landing First Nation and residents of Pictou County.”

The province says the lack of an approved decommissioning plan means there is a “significant risk” cleanup activity would overlap with its overall Boat Harbour remediation project.

That could delay the cleanup, the province says, because it’s not possible for both parties to dredge on the same site at the same time.

Speaking about the announcement on March 23, Primer Iain Rankin said the government must make sure it meets its own obligation for cleaning up Boat Harbour.

He said the government’s “main focus” is to “ensure that when we have the permit from the federal government, that cleanup can start, that’s it’s efficient, and that it gets done.”

“Right now we need to make sure that very important cleanup of Boat Harbour stays on track,” Rankin said. “Having one company go in and manage the cleanup was also a consideration for us [to ensure we meet timelines].”

Lloyd Hines, the minister responsible for Nova Scotia Lands, said in a news release the province’s “ultimate goal is to return Boat Harbour, or A’se’k in Mi’kmaq, to its original state as a tidal estuary. It’s a commitment to the people of Pictou Landing First Nation and Pictou County and we intend to keep it.”