NS: Gunning 'cautiously optimistic' about Pictou County mill announcement

John Brannen, The News
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Matt Gunning of the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook group says he is hoping the government of Nova Scotia will follow through on its promise to not make a financial commitment to Northern Pulp and to clean up Boat Harbour.

Matt Gunning of the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook group stands in front of the Northern Pulp effluent ponds at the Boat Harbour Facility in Pictou Landing in this photo taken last summer. - File photo

[PICTOU, NS] - Premier Stephen McNeil’s announcement regarding Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation and Boat Harbour has lots of people talking.

With its 3,000 plus members, the Clean Up the Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook group, has been abuzz with activity. Questions abound as to whether recent talk about Boat Harbour and the mill’s effluent ponds will finally see it cleaned up.

Matt Gunning, one of the founders of the group, is pleased the premier is discussing environmental issues pertaining to the county.

“He seems to have taken a good stance and we’re encouraged by that,” said Gunning. “The next step, of course, is the big step – actually doing something.”

Because other announcements regarding the Boat Harbour facility have ended in disappointment, most recently by the Rodney MacDonald in 2008, Gunning is not letting his guard down just yet.

“We’ve certainly got no reason to believe that McNeil is being insincere but we will continue to have constant cautious optimism,” he said. “We want things to happen and at this point, we feel his government has done more than its predecessors have on the Boat Harbour situation.”

McNeil announced at the Halifax Club on Jan. 30 that his government wouldn’t make a financial commitment to Northern Pulp and that Boat Harbour would be cleaned up. 

“If the business model they have does not work for them, it is not the responsibility of the people of Nova Scotia to bail it out,” McNeil said.

Northern Pulp general manager Don Breen has stated repeatedly that the mill never asked for a bailout but rather was asking for more access to wood fibre on Crown lands.

McNeil stated the cleanup of Boat Harbour would start with Northern Pulp with the support of the provincial and federal government. It’s a three-pronged approach that is supported by Gunning.

“It’s the mill’s production and business and they certainly have an obligation to the community since the current owners have more money than the average Nova Scotia taxpayer,” he said. “The government has a responsibility, of course, and we’ll be looking for leadership on this from MP Peter MacKay as well.”

The Progressive Conservative caucus noted in a release that while the premier can say he wants to clean up Boat Harbour, he’d have to include liability for contaminated sites in the upcoming budget.

“It’s time for everyone to be adults and not be caught pointing fingers because looking for someone to accept all the blame will make the problem perpetual,” said Gunning. “We feel that the cleanup of this site is going to create jobs in the area and put a lot of boots on the ground.”

A controversial revelation from Ecology Action Centre, a Nova Scotia-based sustainability organization, noted that a month before the Department of Natural Resources began the Western Crown Lands Planning Process, Northern Pulp’s access to publicly owned Crown land in the province went from 100,000 to 225,000 tons annually. This was done before a public consultation process to decide how to best use Crown lands in Western Nova Scotia.

Matt Miller, forestry co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, said the credibility of the consultations are now in jeopardy.

“News of this deal is a slap in the face to all those who participated in this so-called consultation, and will seriously undermine the outcome of the process,” he said.

Gunning remains cautious that this government will adopt a different approach to Northern Pulp.

“We don’t need to play politics because everyone’s hand is dirty in this,” he said. “A lot of healing for the Pictou Landing First Nations and residents of Pictou Landing needs to take place.”

Gunning and other members of the Facebook group have been in meetings with local community members, politicians and management of Northern Pulp.

“The mill has been very good to work with since the staff there are members of the community as well. The Facebook group isn’t here to pick winners and losers and don’t want the mill to close,” said Gunning. “We’re raising the issue of the Boat Harbour and keep our politicians motivated.”

Organizations: Northern Pulp Nova Scotia, Pictou County Pulp Mill Facebook, Halifax Club Department of Natural Resources Pictou Landing First Nations

Geographic location: Boat Harbour, Northern Pulp, Pictou County Nova Scotia

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