‘It just don’t make any sense’: A trucking business feels the sting of Northern Pulp closure

Gerald Battist doesn’t work for Northern Pulp, but few people have more to lose from the mill’s closure than the veteran trucker and his 42 employees.

“Almost 60 per cent of my business is with the mill,” Battist said in a recent interview at Gerald Battist Trucking.

Idled truck cabs and semi-trailers are parked in the yard of the business on Granton Abercrombie Road, Pictou County these days.

“I rely on it for steady work,” he said of Northern Pulp, located just a few kilometres from his business. “And with that shutdown the steady work is not there anymore, and it’s going to make it very difficult going forward to be able to maintain everything and meet all the commitments.”

Battist’s company hauled wood harvested across the province to the mill and containers to the Port of Halifax and across the border to the United States.

Mill closed this month

That dried up as production ceased earlier this month.

Almost 60 per cent of Battist’s business was tied to the mill. (CBC)

The effects are rippling through the mill’s supply chain.

“The rates have been cut already, the sawlog prices, big time,” he said. “Transportation costs, everybody’s cutting everybody else so they can try and make their own ends meet enough to be able to carry on for a bit.”

Battist is not alone.

The mill’s reach was on display last month when about 300 logging and transport trucks lined up for 20 kilometres from Dartmouth to Fall River to protest the looming shutdown.

Many of those trucks then made their way toward Province House, causing traffic to snarl as they drove into downtown Halifax

50 containers of pulp bundles per day

A container terminal not far from there was the daily destination for 50 containers of pulp bundles from the mill. Battist’s business was a part of that.

Cargo from the mill generated $500,000 a year in revenue for the port, accounting for four per cent of the total volume moving through.

The mill made up eight per cent of exports out of Halifax.

“So that makes an impact,” says Capt. Allan Gray, CEO of the Halifax Port Authority.

“We’re working very closely with both the foresters and other customers to try and see if we can find alternative cargoes or alternative markets.

Container truck traffic to drop 6 to 9 per cent

Gray predicts a six to nine per cent drop in container trucking through downtown Halifax because of the Northern Pulp closure.

The port has been through this before when another big exporter, the Bowater Mersey pulp mill owned by Resolute Forest Products, closed in 2012.

The Northern Pulp mill in Abercrombie Point, N.S., is viewed from Pictou, N.S., in December. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

While the loss of Northern Pulp is palpable, like Bowater, it is not likely to drive shipping lines away, Gray said.

Shippers call at Halifax because it is an import gateway for cargo destined for the U.S. Midwest and that has not changed.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a significant impact on the shipping services,” Gray said.

Battist party to judicial review

Meanwhile, Battist is a party to the Northern Pulp court application for a judicial review of the provincial environment minister’s decision to require a full environmental assessment of a new waste effluent system proposed by the mill.

The requirement for the full assessment pushed the proposed waste treatment facility back by two years.

Three days after the assessment decision was announced, Premier Stephen McNeil rejected the company’s request to extend a Jan. 31 deadline to close the current wastewater treatment facility at Boat Harbour.

Battist says McNeil made the wrong decision.

The treated effluent from Boat Harbour met federal water quality standards and closing Boat Harbour will cost jobs from from Yarmouth to Sydney, he said.

“It just don’t make any sense. You don’t take a company that’s making money, a company that was willing to spend money to put a new treatment plant in, and turn them down for no reason whatsoever.”

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