By Scott Costen
One of Queens County’s largest employers could be forced to cut staff or shut down altogether if Northern Pulp is unable to maintain operations in Pictou County.
“We’ve got 150 people working here full-time,” said Richard Freeman, co-owner of Harry Freeman & Son Ltd. in Greenfield. “Every one of those positions relies on the continued operation of Northern Pulp.”
The 186-year-old family business previously sold its wood chips and other byproducts to Bowater Mersey in Brooklyn. After Bowater closed in 2012, Freeman & Son found a new buyer in Northern Pulp.
“The forest economy is so interdependent at so many stages, and Northern Pulp is the linchpin in all of that,” Freeman told the Observer. “I don’t think there are a lot of folks out there who understand how integral Northern Pulp is to the rural economy.”
While Harry Freeman & Son has state-of-the-art equipment that maximizes its log-cutting yield, it’s inevitably left with large amounts of byproduct it sells to Northern Pulp, providing a vital revenue stream. “We produce 80 B-train loads of wood chips a week,” Freeman said. “In terms of volume, it would be about 120,000 or 130,000 grain metric tonnes a year.”
The clock is ticking on Northern Pulp’s aging wastewater treatment plant in Boat Harbour. In March 2015, the province ordered the facility to close no later than Jan. 31, 2020. The company has not yet requested provincial approval for a replacement facility but has expressed interest in using an effluent pipeline extending into the Northumberland Strait. That option has drawn the ire of many environmentalists, fishermen and local residents.
As reported by Canadian Press, Premier Stephen McNeil has said his government will not unilaterally grant an extension to Northern Pulp. However, he did indicate a willingness to listen to community feedback and to motions in the legislature from Pictou-based MLAs.
Pictou Landing First Nation (PLFN) is certainly in no mood to see an extension granted. Located near the chronically polluted Boat Harbour site, the Indigenous community is hosting a one-year countdown event Jan. 31 and today published a chronological overview of the facility’s 52-year history and the negative impacts it has had on PLFN members.
“I obviously understand that they have suffered an historic wrong there,” Freeman said about PLFN. “There’s no question of that and there’s no question that the Boat Harbour facility needs to be closed down in a reasonable fashion and there needs to be some remediation there.”
For Freeman, the issue is the fast-approaching deadline and the economic chaos he sees occurring if Northern Pulp is forced to close before it can build a new effluent disposal system.
“They want to do what’s right with their wastewater facility there,” he said. “They want to build and commission a first-rate facility like you’d see with the most modern Kraft pulp mills in the world. And it’s something that’s really going to require more time than they’ve been given.”
Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland, who recently toured the Greenfield sawmill, said she has heard directly from workers and shares their concerns.
“I’m getting letters now from Freeman mill employees and people that are involved in trucking and other aspects of the operation,” she told the Observer. “They’ve got to have a place to sell and ship their byproduct.”
Freeman said it’s not just the 150 direct jobs at the Greenfield sawmill that could be affected if Northern Pulp runs out of time. “Our spend into the Nova Scotia economy each week is a million bucks,” he said. “We buy a lot of wood from local landowners. There’s hardly a week that we wouldn’t spend three quarters of a million dollars on private wood.” The company also hires a number of local contractors and helps produce spin-off employment, he said.