The Northern Pulp mill, as it appeared in 2019 while still operating. Company officials recently released details of a proposed $350-million reopening plan, but have not said how it would be financed. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Originally published on CBC News, July 25, 2021
By Michael Gorman

The company has not said how it would finance its proposed $350M reopening plan

Nova Scotia’s three main political party leaders might not agree on much, but there’s one issue on which they share the same view: if the owners of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou County get approval to reopen the beleaguered site, they should not count on financial assistance from the next provincial government.

Officials with the mill recently announced details of their proposal to restart the mill, which has been closed since February 2020. The $350-million project will eventually be submitted to the province for environmental consideration, however ownership has yet to detail how it would finance the plan if they get the green light.

Evidently, the people of Nova Scotia won’t be chipping in.

“Proponents and companies that want to do business here should be putting their own capital into it,” said Liberal Leader Iain Rankin, who added that he’s opposed to the type of forgivable loans given to mills in the past, most recently by the former NDP government.

“We support business; we do that by reducing regulatory burden and we continue to support our traditional sectors like forestry, but they’ll have to put their own [money] forward.”

Tory Leader Tim Houston has a similar view.

“If a company wants to put up a plant, then the company should be able to finance that,” he said.

Houston said his party’s platform is focused on support for companies rooted and growing here.

“I think there’s lots of ways we can invest in economic development and I’m very focused on investing at the level of the working family,” he said.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said Northern Pulp has “a long ways to go and an awful lot of work to do to get itself in the place of public confidence where the government of the province should give any consideration to a financial application from that company.”

And while Burrill isn’t keen on the idea of financial support for the mill, he is even more emphatic on what is apt to be the most controversial part of the company’s proposal: sending treated effluent into Pictou Harbour.

“No, nay, never,” Burrill said.

While effluent from a restarted mill would need to go somewhere, Burrill said much work remains to be done by the company to show it’s prepared to be a good corporate citizen.

“That is up to the company to bring forward a proposal that both meets a scientific standard and meets — generates the confidence of the public,” he said. “I think the company has a long, long road to go before they can meet that second standard.”

Houston said he’s pleased the project is being subjected to the most stringent environmental assessment process possible by the province. He’s not prepared to outright dismiss the idea of any flow into the harbour, although he said it causes him concern.

“Anytime we’re talking about discharge from a manufacturing facility of any type, we need to make sure that we understand what’s in that, we need to understand the ramifications and the interactions with the environment it’s going into,” he said.

“These are all very detailed scientific questions that are well beyond my pay grade, but certainly I understand and feel the same anxiety that somebody has to understand this and be able to give us all confidence that it’s safe.”

Rankin said the environmental assessment process needs to be fair but rigorous, something he’s confident the Class 2 evaluation will achieve. That process can take several years to complete and is more thorough than a Class 1 assessment.

Houston, who has represented Pictou East for two terms, said the mill has always been a polarizing issue and, if anything, it’s become more so since it was closed following the company’s failure to get environmental approval for a previously proposed effluent treatment facility.

The replacement site was required after the Liberal government legislated the closure of Boat Harbour. The former tidal estuary served as the destination for the mill’s effluent for decades before finally closing at the end of January 2020. Local residents have since remarked on the improvement of air and water quality since the mill shut down, while members of the forestry industry have pointed to the loss of a major market for pulp wood.

“Those people that were against it have what they would see as a body of evidence to support their position, and those that, you know, were still in favour of it are probably still in favour of it and are pointing to the scale of the investment that is being contemplated,” said Houston.

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