B.C. Supreme Court to decide fate of Northern Pulp deal

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., as seen in 2020.  (David Gutnick/CBC - image credit)
The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., as seen in 2020. (David Gutnick/CBC - image credit)

A British Columbia Supreme Court judge will decide the fate Friday of a deal Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston called "fair to all sides" last week when he and the owners of Northern Pulp announced the agreement to settle a $450-million lawsuit.

At the heart of this negotiated settlement is the permanent closure of the company's pulp mill in Pictou County, N.S., and the promise to look at opening a new operation in Liverpool.

If the deal is approved, Paper Excellence, Northern Pulp's parent company, has promised to immediately begin work to determine the feasibility of building and running a new pulp mill in the South Shore community that was once home to the Mersey Paper Company, founded in 1929.

The mill's last owners, Resolute Forest Products, announced the shutdown of the Bowater Mersey paper mill in 2012.

A group of woodlot owners, former mill employees and their families cheered at news they might get a new mill when they gathered last week to view a remote broadcast of the premier's news conference announcing the deal.

New mill would be 'state of the art'

But Kim Masland, the local MLA and a PC cabinet minister, told reporters Thursday she's also heard from constituents concerned about having to endure what residents in Pictou lived with for decades — living across the harbour from Northern Pulp's mill.

"Certainly I have heard from people since the announcement that that is a concern of theirs, the smell," said Masland following a cabinet meeting. "Obviously it would be a concern of mine as well.

"I grew up in Queens County. I live right in Liverpool. I don't plan on leaving, but I think all of those questions will be answered in the feasibility study."

Kim Masland, Minister of Public Works announces the Road Trails Act on Friday.
Kim Masland, Minister of Public Works announces the Road Trails Act on Friday.

Kim Masland, a PC cabinet minister and the MLA for Queens, said if a new mill goes ahead, it will use the newest technology and meet the latest environmental standards. (Robert Short/CBC)

Masland said she was encouraged by the fact a new mill would be using the latest technology and built to meet today's environmental standards.

"We know that if this mill was to go forward, that this would be a state-of-the-art mill, very similar to what we see in some of the mills in Finland," said Masland.

If the feasibility study were to determine a new mill would not be profitable enough, the deal broadly spells out Paper Excellence's obligations when it comes to paying back provincial loans and cleaning up the mill site at  Abercrombie Point.

Cost of cleanup

Houston acknowledged it was something he's worried about.

"Of course we're concerned and have thoughts about the future of the Pictou site," Houston told reporters. "What happens on the site and how much that will cost in the future, that won't really be known until the purpose of the site has been determined."

Zach Churchill is Nova Scotia's health minister.
Zach Churchill is Nova Scotia's health minister.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said cleanup of the former mill site is 'imperative.' (Robert Short/CBC)

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said he, too, was concerned about the cleanup costs. According to the deal, Paper Excellence will set aside "$15 million toward the cleanup and maintenance of the Northern Pulp site and implement a site closure plan."

"We have to know what the overall cost is going to be," said Churchill. "We also have to know if there's going to be a plan to clean up that awful site."

Churchill said "there's a moral and environmental and ethical imperative" to clean up the site.

NDP Leader Claudia Chender echoed that sentiment, saying her party has "huge concerns" with the cleanup process.

"That should have been front and centre, frankly, in any agreement with Northern Pulp."