The effluent flowing into Boat Harbour on Wednesday wasn’t entirely clear, but it didn’t smell and foam wasn’t building up in the section known as the activated sludge basin.
And the mood was much more conciliatory than it had been on Tuesday when the Pictou Landing First Nation issued a news release about its frustration that effluent would continue flowing into the facility past the Jan. 31 deadline outlined in the Boat Harbour Act.
The release resulted in a hastily announced news conference where the premier responded that the effluent would just come from running the power boiler to prevent pipes from freezing.
“It’s better for everybody that Northern Pulp is allowed to do an orderly shutdown,” said Brian Hebert, lawyer for the First Nation on Wednesday.
“There’s no indication the effluent would be harmful. Obviously it’s not clean, nobody’s going to drink it.”
While he maintained that technically the province is in violation of the Boat Harbour Act as leachate from the mill site and waste water from the power boiler does qualify as effluent, the community is willing to be patient and wait until the pipe is disconnected – as promised by Premier Stephen McNeil – in April.
So what’s coming out of the pipe now?
“If the mill’s not running then you do not have black liquor or green liquor so you have to use biomass or even Bunker C (oil) to fire (the power boiler),” said Yonghao Ni, director of the Dr. Jack McKenzie Pulp and Paper Centre at the University of New Brunswick.
“Then the waste water stream (from the power boiler) will be a minimum – it’s just like any other heating plant at that point, any other boiler.”
That means it is primarily water, albeit water that has run through an idled kraft pulp mill.
Actual production of that pulp ceased earlier this month.
While Northern Pulp didn’t respond to a request for comment, an employee at the mill told The Chronicle Herald that the multi-storey-high chemical tanks had been drained and the contents taken away in trucks.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of miles of pipe, there are lines that have never been drained,” said the employee of the necessity of keeping the power boiler running this winter.
“There are lines that don’t have drains on them.”
Allowing the power boiler to continue operating would allow the mill to install drains where they are required and to fully empty the facility so that it could go into a cold idle and freeze up next winter with less damage.
Paper Excellence has been relatively quiet on its plans for the future of the facility but has said it will continue with the environmental assessment process.
Paper Excellence purchased a Prince Albert, Sask., kraft pulp mill in 2011 and has stated that it plans to restart it after a non-compete clause with its former owner expires in 2020. That mill has been closed for over a decade.
Contracts signed by the previous Nova Scotia governments with the mill’s former owners put taxpayers on the hook financially for ending the lease to Boat Harbour a decade early and potentially for the mill’s lost profits as well.
“Yes, Northern Pulp could have started the process to shut down months ago but they really didn’t expect to be closed down,” said Hebert.
“The province maybe had hinted that if the environmental assessment was approved they might consider extending the deadline (to close Boat Harbour).”