Northern Pulp

This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 7, 2019. As decision-day approaches on Northern Pulp’s proposal for a new effluent treatment facility that would be constructed very close to the Canso Chemicals site, which is heavily contaminated with mercury, I decided to republish the article here.

Canso Chemicals hasn’t produced any chemicals for 29 years, but — contrary to what I wrote in the Halifax Examiner in “Northern Pulp’s environmental documents: missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions” — the company lives on.

Sort of.

For two decades Canso Chemicals produced chlorine for the pulping process at a site adjacent to the pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, but when new pulp and paper effluent regulations came into effect in 1992, the mill switched to chlorine dioxide. No longer needed, the chemical plant was closed.

A Google search for “Canso Chemicals” turns up an address (Granton Abercrombie Road, New Glasgow, NS) and a phone number, which I called. Although the Google result states that it is “permanently closed,” someone did answer the phone with the words, “Canso Chemicals.” When I introduced myself, he said he could not make any comment, but would try to find someone who could answer my questions about the company. He took my number. I haven’t had a return call.

Continue reading The curious case of Northern Pulp’s neighbour Canso Chemicals, and why its owners keep it alive

Read more

This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 5, 2019.

Northern Pulp effluent flows into the Northumberland Strait at a dam called Point D. Photo: Joan Baxter

There is much to wade through in the documents that Northern Pulp submitted to Nova Scotia Environment on February 7, 2019, when it registered its “Replacement Effluent Treatment Facility” for a 50-day, Class 1 environmental assessment (EA).

Citizens who wanted to comment to the government on the proposal, as was their right, needed to slog through 1,586 pages in 17 registration documents, and they needed to do it quickly. The public was given only one month to comment. Environment Minister Margaret Miller had until March 29 to decide on the project. [Minister Miller’s decision is detailed here.]

Not surprisingly, the EA submission starts on a very encouraging note. In the Executive Summary, Dillon Consulting, which developed the project documents on behalf of Northern Pulp, provides a table indicating the “significance of project-related residual environmental effects” on 18 items, everything from the atmosphere to marine fish and fish habitat at every stage of the project, during construction, operation and maintenance, or because of accidents or malfunctions.

Every single one of them is assessed as NS, or “No Significant Residual Environmental Effect Predicted.”

Every. Single. One.

This could mean either of two things.

Continue reading Northern Pulp’s environmental documents – missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions

Read more

This article was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on February 21, 2019.

“We care,” says Northern Pulp on the website it has created to spread the word that it “cares about forestry families of Nova Scotia.”

The site is a vehicle for the company’s letter-writing campaign to get people in the forestry sector to contact Premier Stephen McNeil, their MLA, MP, or even Canadian Senators to ask for an extension to the legislated deadline of January 31, 2020 for the closure of Boat Harbour as a stabilizing lagoon for effluent from the Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence mill in Pictou County.

Effluent from the Northern Pulp mill flows out of a pipeline. Photo: Joan Baxter

The form letter on the site requests the extension “to allow Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence the time required to commission and construct a new, environmentally responsible onsite treatment system.” The letter is signed, “A concerned supporter of Nova Scotia’s forest industry.”

This isn’t the first time Northern Pulp has resorted to composing and sending out form letters to try to garner support for itself and its interests, be it to town councils trying to get them to lend their support to a campaign to get the Boat Harbour closure date changed, or to its employees and former employees to get a (my) book signing cancelled in New Glasgow.

The Northern Pulp “cares” website is just part of the company’s intensive PR and lobbying campaign, which also means rallying its supporters in Canada’s largest private sector union, UNIFOR, to get the pro-mill message out in advertisements on the airwaves and social media.

Continue reading Northern Pulp says it “cares” – but for whom and what?

Read more

(This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on February 1, 2019.)

On January 31, 2019, Pictou Landing First Nation started counting down the days until Boat Harbour is closed to pulp mill effluent. Photo courtesy Matt Dort.

The children of Pictou Landing First Nation didn’t mince words when they addressed the standing-room-only audience that gathered in their school gymnasium on January 31, 2019 to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the legislated closure of Boat Harbour.

They “hate” Boat Harbour. It makes them “sad.” And “it stinks.”

Pictou Landing First Nationyouth council president Shyanna Denny (L) & PLFN Band Councillor Haley Bernard (R) distribute A’se’K (Mi’kmaq name for Boat Harbour) t-shirts at closure countdown celebration. Photo: Joan Baxter

Once the mill stops pumping its effluent — up to 90 million litres of the reeking stuff every day — into the lagoon that backs up against their Reserve, Alden Francis told the audience that “everything won’t stink really bad” any more. He said he can’t wait for the smell to be gone.

But it’s not just Boat Harbour that stinks. Continue reading “Everything won’t stink so bad”: The countdown to the Boat Harbour closure begins

Read more

 

This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on November 3, 2018.

The pulp mill effluent is aerated in this basin before flowing into Boat Harbour, where it settles for up to a month before being released into the Northumberland Strait. Photo: Joan Baxter

The numbers are staggering.

For the past 51 years, the bleached kraft pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, has piped about 1.25 trillion litres of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour.[1] That’s enough to fill about half a million Olympic-size swimming pools, or a pipeline one metre in diameter stretching about 1.6 million kilometres, the distance to the moon and back – twice.[2]

But in less than a year, the Northern Pulp mill has to turn off the flow. The 2015 Boat Harbour Act gives the mill until January 30, 2020 to use Boat Harbour for its effluent. The Pictou Landing First Nation has a “Winds of Change” clock on its website, counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Boat Harbour pipe outlet is closed.

Proposals for an alternative treatment and disposal facility for the mill’s have met with vigorous and vociferous opposition from the Pictou Landing First Nation and fishermen in the three Maritime provinces, leading to rising tensions in the area.[3]

Despite the rapidly approaching deadline for closing the pipe into Boat Harbour, Premier Stephen McNeil has told CBC that he made a commitment to Pictou Landing First Nation, and unless the people there tell him otherwise, the closure date remains. Continue reading Containing Northern Pulp’s mess: A half century of toxic waste in Boat Harbour, a leaky pipeline, and what happens next in the mill saga

Read more

There’s a 21st century gold rush starting in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, just as industrial gold mining is increasingly coming into disrepute around the world. It has been described as an “environmental disaster,” which often leads to contamination of water sources on which life depends. This is the second in a series of four articles on mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 2. Going for gold

Screenshot of BNN interview of Atlantic Gold CEO Steven Dean (left) at the 2018 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention.

The CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold Corporation, Steven Dean, a man with a history of international coal and metal mining and former president of Teck Cominco, was being interviewed by Andrew Bell of the Business News Network (BNN).[1] Dean was talking up his company’s first gold mine, named Touquoy after a French miner who worked the deposit in the late 1800s, which had just gone into production in Moose River, Nova Scotia.

The interview was held at an ideal venue for Atlantic Gold to showcase its new open-pit gold mine, the first ever in Nova Scotia: the 2018 convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association (PDAC) of Canada in Toronto, the global mining industry’s “event of choice.”

Bell expressed amazement at the low cost – $550 – of producing an ounce of gold at the Touquoy mine. Dean told him the mine would produce about 90,000 ounces a year which, at current gold prices, would make it a “profitable mine” with about $90 million in “operating cash flow.” And, said Dean, Atlantic Gold planned to enter its second phase of operations by 2022, with more mines operating in the area, producing a total of 200,000 ounces a year. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 2)

Read more

The pulp mill in northern Nova Scotia. Photo by Dr. Gerry Farrell

By Joan Baxter

December 12, 2017 (updated November 22, 2019)

When I held the first copy of “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest” in my hands two years ago, in November 2017, I would never have believed that the book would ever make any headlines, let alone national ones, or make any bestseller lists, or receive any special mentions from the incredible actress and activist from Nova Scotia, Ellen Page.

Right to left: Acclaimed ward-winning songwriter and musician Dave Gunning who inspired the book, the incredible person, activist and actress Ellen Page, myself, and Lil MacPherson, climate activist and co-owner of the Wooden Monkey restaurants, who passed “The Mill” on to her friend, Ellen Page, to read.

But it did. And what’s more astounding is that the book went from almost total obscurity when it came out, to the front pages of national media because of the actions of the very people who tried to suppress its promotion, ensure it remained obscure. Just desserts?

The book and its birth – a short history

But I need to take a breath here, and go back to the beginning. It’s been an overwhelming two years and I’m still trying to make some sense of it all and how it transpired.

Even before the book came out, there were times – late at night – that I lay awake questioning the wisdom of spending more than a year researching and writing a book about a pulp mill in a small town in a small province in eastern Canada. It was an intense (and income-less) time.

Not that it wasn’t a fascinating and fulfilling journey of learning. It was that and more.

It was a great pleasure and privilege to meet and listen to so many interesting, informed and passionate people who had been involved in one way or another with the mill over the years. Some had family members working there or had worked for the mill themselves at one point. Their views on the mill were nuanced. On one hand, it provided jobs and supported a lot of service industries in the area and forestry contractors around the province. If it smelled, so be it – that was just the smell of money.

But others felt the county had paid too high a price for the big smelly mill. Over the five decades that it had been in operation, one group of citizens after another had come together to create waves of protest, to try to get one government after another to do its job and protect them from the harmful effects of a large industry. Continue reading What happened when The Mill protested the book “The Mill – Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest”

Read more