Many locals will have none of the mill’s argument that its new pipe will be harmless to the environment.
Caribou Harbour, in Northumberland Strait of Canada’s Nova Scotia province, is a prime spawning ground for fish. It’s no surprise that when a paper mill unveiled plans to discharge large amounts of treated effluents into local waters, local fishermen were up in arms over it.
The mill, called Northern Pulp, has proposed constructing a 15km drainage pipe to deliver treated effluent from its ageing facility to the harbor, with company representatives stressing the new drainage pipe is necessary because its existing one, located nearby in an area called Boat Harbour, is to be closed in January. A decision on the proposed drainage pipe will be made in mid-December by the Nova Scotia government.
Ahead of the decision, the mill has completed an environmental assessment report to explain how the new drainage pipe, which would be nearly a meter in diameter, would be buried three meters under the seafloor and disgorge its contents some four kilometers from shore. As a result, the report’s authors claim the project would have little effect on local populations of fish, crab and lobster that live in the area.
“Based on testing, modelling and the incorporation of mitigation activities, no significant residual impacts to marine water quality are expected to arise on any fisheries or fish habitat as a result of this project,” the mill’s report states. “The placement of the pipeline outfall diffuser was chosen so as to minimize the impact in active fishing areas.” The effluents in question are known to include harmful chemicals including PCBs, arsenic, and various metals.
Groups representing local fishermen, indigenous people and environmentalists, however, will have none of that argument. They insist the steady discharge of effluents of up to 85 million liters a day would adversely impact marine ecosystems and place traditional livelihoods in jeopardy as well. “Ice can gouge through the pipe. What happens if it breaks?” Colton Cameron, a fisherman from Caribou Harbour, was quoted as observing.
“I don’t think they put much attention to detail about fishing activity. A lot of it’s just wrong,” the fisherman insisted. “The reality is that [this] is prime fishing grounds and prime breeding grounds for these fish.”
Northern Pulp is owned by Paper Excellence, which is an indirect subsidiary of the global Sinar Mas forestry group, whose environmental record has been called into question around the world but most prominently in Southeast Asia. The Sinar Mas Group is the parent company of Asia Pulp & Paper, which is Indonesia’s largest pulp and paper company. Jackson Widjaja, grandson of Sinar Mas founder Eka Widjaja, is the CEO of Paper Excellence.
Greenpeace has linked Asia Pulp & Paper and the Sinar Mas Group to largescale destruction of forests and peatlands in Southeast Asia. Since 2013 almost 8,000 hectares of forest and peatland has been cleared in two concessions owned by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and its parent company, the environmentalist group says.
“APP became the world’s most notorious pulp and paper company after years of forest destruction and links to human rights abuses,” Kiki Taufik, Global Head of the Indonesia forests campaign at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement last year. “In 2013 the company committed to end its role in deforestation and introduced new conservation commitments. Progress since then has been mixed and it is now in jeopardy due to links to ongoing rainforest destruction.”
Asia Pulp & Paper has also been linked to devastating fires set by local farmers to clear forests and other vegetation in Indonesia. These massive fires, in addition to damaging fragile ecosystems, generate vast amounts of airborne pollutants in clouds of thick haze that are then carried far and wide by winds, blighting the lives of people across much of the region.
The dispute between Northern Pulp and its neighbors may seem like a parochial issue, but the arguments over the impact on local wildlife and communities speaks to the global environmental footprint of the paper and pulp industries. It also sparks a broader question for Canadian environmentalists: will granting Northern Pulp the regulatory approval it seeks strengthen Paper Excellence’s hand as it gains ever greater access to Canadian forests with its acquisitions?
As such, despite being a world away from Indonesia’s tropical forests, local fishermen and indigenous people in Nova Scotia are taking their campaign against the proposed drainage system just as seriously as their counterparts in Indonesia. As they stress, the environmental risks of the proposed new pipe would far outweigh its benefits – a concern that could apply just as easily to the controversial company’s broader presence in Canada.