06/12/2014 02:44 EDT | Updated 08/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia government committed to cleaning up Boat Harbour, premier says

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's premier reiterated Thursday his government's intention to clean up pollution in Pictou County's Boat Harbour as aboriginal protesters continued a blockade near a broken wastewater pipe leading from the local paper mill.

But Stephen McNeil also held by his position that a cleanup can't proceed until the province finds out exactly what's in the effluent and gets a better idea on how much it would cost to remediate the site.

"We're sincere about trying to deal with this issue and move forward on it but we need a starting point," said McNeil. "I would have preferred that information was available but it isn't and we are acting appropriately."

The province has said the most recent data it has on the site dates back to 1995 and it has to be updated.

McNeil's comments come as protesters from the Pictou Landing First Nation vow to continue blocking access to a broken wastewater pipe leading from the Northern Pulp paper mill until they get a commitment on a cleanup of Boat Harbour.

The blockade went up Tuesday after the band council learned the pipe was leaking wastewater into wetlands and the nearby East River.

McNeil said he understands the frustrations of the local community because a number of promises have been made by past governments.

"I don't blame them for being a bit skeptical because the history has not been good," McNeil said.

McNeil said he has tried but not been in contact with Pictou Landing Chief Andrea Paul.

Environment Minister Randy Delorey said an environmental cleanup crew has been given access to the leak site and a cleanup was underway, although he didn't have an estimate on how much waste leaked from the pipe.

Delorey said he has spoken with Paul over the phone and is trying to arrange a meeting, although he won't be travelling to the protest site.

That response drew criticism from the Pictou East Progressive Conservative member, who said Delorey should meet with the protesters in person.

"He should be looking people in the face and explaining the plan to fix the situation," said Tim Houston.

The paper mill has been shut down since the leak was discovered on Tuesday.

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