About the Project

A natural saltwater habitat

Before 1967 Boat Harbour was a natural tidal estuary. It was a saltwater habitat spread over about 142 hectares (350 acres). The estuary was connected to the Northumberland Strait by a narrow passage just east of the Pictou Landing First Nation community.

A freshwater lake

Since 1967 Boat Harbour has been receiving waste water effluent from industry. In 1972, a dam was built cutting Boat Harbour off from the ocean. This turned the saltwater estuary into a freshwater lake. From that time to today, Boat Harbour has been receiving wastewater from the pulp mill at Abercrombie Point. In the early years, Canso Chemicals also used Boat Harbour to treat their wastewater.

The use of Boat Harbour by industry has led to a number of contaminants settling in the sediment of the harbour.

The contaminants

More than 200 studies have been done to find out what, exactly is in Boat Harbour. These studies have found that the sediments in Boat Harbour have some contaminants including:

  • cadmium
  • dioxins
  • furans
  • mercury
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • petroleum hydrocarbons
  • zinc

The Boat Harbour Act

The Government of Nova Scotia owns the Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility and operated the Facility until December 1995.  In January 1996, the Facility was leased to the owners of the pulp mill at Abercrombie Point, who have operated it since. In 2015, the Government of Nova Scotia passed The Boat Harbour Act. This law orders that Boat Harbour will cease to be used for the reception and treatment of effluent by January 31, 2020.

The Boat Harbour Act allows time for two things:

  • to plan and build a new wastewater treatment plant
  • to plan the cleanup of Boat Harbour

A plan for a cleanup

The Boat Harbour Remediation Project team is currently working with local residents, federal and provincial regulators, technical advisors and scientists to develop a clean-up plan for Boat Harbour. The goal of the cleanup is to return Boat Harbour to its original state as a tidal estuary. Before a return to tidal, the contaminants must be cleaned up. The cleanup cannot begin until wastewater stops flowing into Boat Harbour. That means the earliest the cleanup can begin is in early 2020. We estimate that it will take until at least 2024 to complete the cleanup. We will have a better estimate of this schedule when we complete our plans.

A large and complex project

The cleanup of Boat Harbour is a large and complex task with many aspects to take into consideration.

The Boat Harbour Remediation Project Team has been working hard to figure out the answers to the following questions:

  • How much of the Boat Harbour Effluent Treatment Facility is contaminated (other than the sediments in Boat Harbour)?
  • Has on site surface and groundwater been contaminated?
  • Will the wetlands on site require remediation?
  • What remediation methods will work? Will we use the same method of remediation for all aspects of the site?  What are the different options?
  • What is the best way to get the sediments out of Boat Harbour? 
  • How do we deal with the pipeline from the mill?
  • Where will the waste material go?
  • What does a clean Boat Harbour look like? (To predict this, we need to study other local estuaries to compare.)
  • How do we manage the construction of a new highway bridge and the removal of the dam at the end of the project?
  • How will we conduct the remediation to ensure we manage risks to the environment and human health?
  • What environmental approvals will be required?
  • How will we ensure that the cleanup is successfully carried out in a cost-effective way?

These studies will be completed by experts from government and industry, as well as scientists from Nova Scotia universities.

An expensive undertaking

We have set aside about $217 million for the cleanup of Boat Harbour. As we work through the planning process, we will establish the project costs with more certainty.

A team of committed partners

We have enlisted the help of many knowledgeable, experienced and concerned people to move this project forward. Together they form the Boat Harbour Environmental Advisory Committee. This committee includes:

  • Members of the Boat Harbour Remediation Project team
  • Expert advisors from provincial and federal governments
  • Pictou Landing First Nation
  • Scientists from Nova Scotia universities
  • Consulting Engineering industry

Clean air and water

Before water from Boat Harbour can be allowed to flow freely in and out of the Northumberland Strait, we need to make sure it is clean. Rigorous environmental monitoring programs will ensure Boat Harbour is clean before it is returned to tidal. Many organizations will help develop our plan and monitoring programs and will ensure they are well implemented. These include:

  • Nova Scotia Environment
  • Nova Scotia Natural Resources
  • Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal
  • Nova Scotia Office of Aboriginal Affairs
  • Environment Canada
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • Department of Indigenous Services Canada
  • Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • Scientists and advisors from Nova Scotia Universities
  • other regulatory groups

Many people and organizations will work together to make sure that Boat Harbour returns to a healthy tidal estuary. The Boat Harbour Remediation Project team is already working with Pictou Landing First Nation to plan the future of Boat Harbour and talk about the positive things that a renewed tidal estuary can bring to the local environment and communities. These could include such things as fishing, swimming, nature trails, or other tourist related activities. Extensive consultation is also planned with the broader community.

A public process

The project team is currently working on the planning phase of the cleanup. Throughout this phase, we will consult with all those interested to make sure they have the information they need.

Related information

Thousands of contaminated site clean ups are underway or have already been completed across Canada.

You can find information about how contaminated sites in Canada are managed by reviewing the Treasury Board of Canada's "A Federal Approach to Contaminated Sites" (PDF 283 KB)