Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Northern Pulp and Clean Air

The Northern Pulp mill on Pictou Harbour  17 August 2014
On a visit to Pictou a few weeks ago we asked the restaurant owner why the town was so quiet. At suppertime on a holiday Friday afternoon there were almost no folks on the street. Most of the restaurants are closed, and the waterfront gift shop is closing at the end of this month. Even the Tim Horton's is gone from the downtown. Our host pointed to the plume of crap spewing from the mill. That was the problem with Pictou.

In truth, it's a problem for all Nova Scotians, because we have far more money in the mill than the owners do. We own the Boat Harbour wastewater treatment facility, and we have assumed all environmental liabilities for the mill once it closes. When the owners are finished with the mill they can likely sell it for scrap, and then we clean up the site. Taxpayers. Us.

After the recent spill of untreated effluent the Province agreed to build a new treatment plant and remediate Boat Harbour lagoon, at a cost to taxpayers of about $100 million.

Every time the mill changes hands, taxpayers assume more and more of the responsibility for that plant, and we sacrifice more and more of our woodland to the companies that run the mill. The Abercrombie mill was initially built by Scott Paper in the 1960's as a market for all of the balsam fir that was growing all over northern Nova Scotia. The mill was a great buyer of wood from farmers and foresters, although the rapid mechanisation of the harvesting industry led to the situation today where harvesting equipment costs many millions of dollars and the operators have to run it 24/7 just to make the payments. And with so much of the wood now small second-growth stems it is hard for anyone to make money.

But I don't lose any sleep over the possibility of the plant being forced to close. They are one of the most rapacious harvesters of our woodlands, and they have been so through all of their different owners. Thousands of hectares of Nova Scotia have been destroyed by that mill - flash up Google Earth and have a look at the wastelands near Wallace Station, and around Mooseland. The Liscomb Game Sanctuary has been destroyed. They take everything, to feed the paper machine or to feed the boiler, or to trade with other mills. Nothing escapes them, except particulate matter that is sickening the folks of Pictou County.

I wonder if the present government will have the backbone to bring them to heel? Which is to say, I wonder if the government will enforce its own regulations?

That's the issue for the folks from Pictou: will the government of the Province of Nova Scotia enforce its own environmental regulations, or do the owners of the mill decide when and how they will comply?  At the moment, I'd say that the mill is on top . . .

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