A St. John's-based seafood company has unveiled an altered plan to build a wharf and cold storage facility in a Conception Bay South harbour, but some critics of the proposal say more environmental work needs to done to satisfy their concerns.
Ocean Choice International's tweaked plan, released Thursday, moves its proposed facility from the middle of Long Pond Harbour and tucks it into its southwest corner. The company says that will allow for a wider channel in and out of the harbour for recreational boaters, a concern heard from residents in the months after people caught wind of it in September 2020.
"We've received invaluable feedback and input through the consultation process with business owners and residents," said OCI president Blaine Sullivan at a media conference.
But that plan leaves a lot to be desired for one community group.
A significant portion of the harbour will still have to be filled in, said Andrea Canning of the group Advocates for the Responsible Development of Long Pond.
At less than five hectares, that infill doesn't trigger an environmental assessment through the province's Department of Environment, she said, but Canning says the sensitive nature of the harbour warrants a second look.
"We have consulted with many groups, a lot of experts in the area, and they all agree that Long Pond is a fully developed, mature and functioning estuary," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Monday.
If an environmental assessment isn't ordered on the grounds the area is an estuary, Canning said, her group will be seeking legal action. Sullivan said OCI's plan has already received the needed environmental go-ahead from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The wharf development, meant to service the offshore fishery, is pegged at between $15 million and $20 million. Canning's group isn't impressed with the public consultation throughout the project's lifespan, either through OCI or the town of Conception Bay South.
"You would expect that of a project the size, it would be a very proactive public consultation, but it's not. It's very reactive," she said. It's only by resorting to social media, she said, that her group has found any traction.
Sullivan said there has been "a tremendous amount of public scrutiny and individual meetings" held to address the project.
Once the harbour is infilled, you can't take it out. - Andrea Canning
Canning said her group wasn't approached to weigh in on the revised plan.
Not a done deal
Despite the changes, the wharf development is far from a done deal.
While the Town of Conception Bay South has been supporters of the project since its early days, that support is mired in court action.
The Eastern Regional Appeal Board was brought into the fray to address the OCI dispute between the town and private citizens, and it ruled in February that the town didn't have authority in the first place to approve the sale of the area to be developed by OCI for $1 back in 2018.
The town responded to that ruling by launching an appeal and asking the provincial government to step in and decide.
The town also takes issue with the board's criticism that there's been a lack of transparency around the project. Coun. Rex Hillier said all town permits used to be posted physically, but that's changed.
"As of this past week, all of that is being posted online, so there's no secrecy as to who's looking for permits and who's not," Hillier said.
The OCI proposal is also subject to a land-use assessment report, yet to be filed and considered, even as municipal elections loom in September.
Hillier doesn't want to pass the project on, since the controversy has been ongoing for months.
"I don't see that as an option.… I don't think it'd be fair to leave it, " he said.
Canning said any further action should be left in a future council's hands.
"I don't think it's fair to rush this through. It's a big decision.… Once the harbour is infilled, you can't take it out."