N.S. pulp mill takes legal action against fishermen's blockade of survey work

HALIFAX — The Northern Pulp mill is taking legal action after fishermen blocked survey boats hired to examine a route for a contentious undersea effluent pipeline.

Kathy Cloutier, a spokeswoman for Northern Pulp's parent company Paper Excellence Canada, said the mill has initiated action seeking an interim injunction to prevent blockades or obstructions of the survey work in the Northumberland Strait.

"Our hope was that the surveying would be allowed to occur without incident or obstruction, however actions indicated that the environmental assessment survey work would not proceed without the company seeking a court injunction," Cloutier said in an email.

A group of fishermen has vowed to block any survey boats from entering the Strait.

Allan MacCarthy, of the Northumberland Fishermen's Association, called the legal action "frivolous."

MacCarthy said he was the first fishermen to warn survey boats earlier this year that he and his colleagues would be blocking them.

"Unless they name every fishermen in the Northumberland Strait, they're going to have resistance. Probably more resistance now," said MacCarthy in a phone interview Wednesday evening, a short time after learning of the legal action.

"The fishermen have stated all along there will be no pipe in the Northumberland Strait. We are not backing down from that. This is going to involve more fishermen now, instead of less."

The plan to dump treated effluent from its Abercrombie, N.S., mill into the Strait has raised the ire of the fishermen, the P.E.I. government and even Hollywood actor Ellen Page, who is from Halifax.

The wider Gulf of St. Lawrence fisheries region is home to lobster and crab fisheries that brought in over $1.2 billion worth of catch in 2016.

Provincial legislation forces the closure of effluent flowing to a facility at the heavily polluted Boat Harbour lagoon by Jan. 31, 2020, a commitment made by Stephen McNeil's government in 2015, after five decades of the waste water flowing into the estuary on the edge of the Pictou Landing First Nation.

McNeil has said he's expecting the company to meet the 2020 deadline.

A group of independent senators are calling for a full panel review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The province plans a 50-day, level-1 environmental review of the undersea effluent pipeline, in which the proponent does much of the work to determine potential impacts, and reviewers look at the result, along with a public commentary period.

Nova Scotia has said it's not applying its higher level-2 review, where outside experts would oversee the process, because a new pipeline and treatment facility is considered a "modification'' of an existing facility.

The province has also indicated it is in discussions with Northern Pulp regarding Crown funding for the treatment facility.

Last week, a Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice ruled the province must consult with Pictou Landing First Nation about how public money is provided to the mill.

Gabriel said if the province becomes a financial backer of the effluent treatment plant, that raises questions on whether the level of funding will mean "upgraded safeguards'' in light of the what the Mi'kmaq community has endured.

He said if the government consults on environmental aspects of the plant's construction, it should take a "holistic'' approach and also consult on the financing it is willing to provide.

McNeil said earlier this week that his government is examining the ruling and would "have more to say'' on the matter.

Aly Thomson, The Canadian Press

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