PICTOU LANDING – They’ll be there as long as it takes.
Juanita Bezanson, left, Ralph Francis, Annie Ferguson and Candy MacDonald sit around some of the supplies dropped off by people passing by Pictou Landing Road Wednesday. Protesters have been set up since Tuesday afternoon after a pipe broke, causing untreated effluent from Northern Pulp to flow into Pictou Harbour. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS
Pictou Landing First Nation Chief Andrea Paul, band councillors, reserve residents and other supporters set up a blockade on Tuesday after hearing that a pipe carrying effluent from Northern Pulp was leaking.
The protest continued Wednesday, and Paul is planning to keep it going until she has a meeting with the Department of Environment and the mill as well as a commitment from them to clean up Boat Harbour.
“I don’t know how long that’ll take. It’s whenever they decide they want to meet with us. I feel confident that the meeting will happen. I do. I really do,” Paul said Wednesday afternoon. “We met with them all individually, and they’re just about as passionate about dealing with Boat Harbour as we are. I do know that they also want a solution to this issue.”
Paul says they don’t want excavators in there without an archeologist.
The area near the leak is close to an ancient burial ground, they say, but they don’t know for sure where it begins.
“All that we ask is that we be a part of the situation,” she said.
Although they weren’t letting the pulp mill in to fix the issue, they did agree to let them in to vacuum up the effluent and move it to a settling pond.
“We don’t want this poison sitting there. It’s got to go somewhere, and that’s a safe spot for it to be.”
Trucks began arriving Wednesday afternoon to begin the cleanup.
Northern Pulp issued a release Tuesday, stating there was no risk to the public.
They hired Stantec Consulting to help develop a cleanup plan.
Strum Engineering, hired by the Department of Environment, is conducting independent tests as part of the investigation.
Environment Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are also looking into it.
"Our first priority is to protect the health of residents and the environment," Environment Minister Randy Delorey said in a release. "Staff are focused on identifying what damage has been done, and what Northern Pulp will need to do to clean up the spill."
The Department of Environment did not return a call from The News by press time, and attempts to contact Northern Pulp were unsuccessful.
The Mi’kmaw Conservation Group were also taking samples by request of council.
Cars honked as they passed by more than a dozen protesters on Pictou Landing Road – the loudest the peaceful protest got Wednesday morning.
People passing by dropped off coffee and breakfast after many of the protesters had been there since the early hours of the morning.
Tonya Francis stayed overnight, leaving only to catch a few hours of sleep.
She’s there because she’s concerned about the health of her children. She lives on the reserve with her three children, ranging in age from three to 11.
“(The odour) was so bad, I’d wake up and couldn’t breathe,” she said about when the mill was running.
Others are also concerned about what role the mill plays in the health of local children and the lung capacity of residents.
Kim Strickland says her six-year-old son wakes up often with nosebleeds that she says are due to environmental factors.
He used to panic, having gone through this since he was a year old, she said.
Now, he doesn’t wake her up anymore. He deals with it himself, she said.
Juanita Bezanson lives in Stellarton, but says she still has problems with the air quality.
She has five puffers, something she didn’t need when she lived in Halifax, she said.
Strickland, Bezanson and Candy MacDonald were at the protest because they want to see a change, adding that they don’t want to see the mill shut down.
RCMP are keeping an eye on the protest.
“We don’t have a role per se other than to maintain public safety. We’re not taking sides but just offer our presence there,” said Sgt. Kevin Dunlevy of the Pictou District RCMP. “We want to keep open communications and make sure those gathered are safe. The people there are very communicative, co-operative and polite. Everyone at the end of the day wants this cleaned up.”
With files from John Brannen