Some residents and business owners say they were stunned by an Ocean Choice International (OCI) proposal to build a new wharf and cold storage facility in the middle of the harbour in Long Pond, in Conception Bay South.
"To be quite frank, we were like blown away. How can this happen?" asked Moya Cahill, a longtime resident of the area and a member of the local yacht club's executive.
Cahill said she's not against development but does not see how the project will fit with how the town markets itself
"The first thing they talk about [is] 'a bright town, a bright future.' I really question how bright they are," she said.
The proposal involves a waterlot — that is, the land underneath the water — that OCI purchased from the harbour authority in 2018. A letter that OCI sent in late August to the town council says the plan is to develop 17,000 square metres of new land in the port, in order to build a wharf and cold storage facility.
So far the project has been approved in principle by the town council.
Lights, smells, traffic among worries
Cahill said she's worried about the environmental impact of the infill as well as from the operation of the 24-hour facility once it's open.
"You've got lights, you've got odour, you have the noise from the trucks going back and forth on terminal road. It will be a busy place," she said.
Cahill is also worried the project will jeopardize sailing and recreational boating in the area because of the amount of space needed for the project, and because of hazards to navigation.
She wants a formal environmental review as well as public consultations — the latter of which she is surprised have not yet happened.
Jerome Coady, the owner of Long Pond's Sunset Key Marina, also says he has serious questions in need of answering.
You've got lights, you've got odour, you have the noise from the trucks going back and forth on terminal road. It will be a busy place. - Moya Cahill
Coady says he was blindsided by the proposal and is distraught by what it may do to the environment.
"It will be looked upon in years ahead to see, how did this ever, ever get approved?" he said.
Coady said while it looks like it will be a great facility, its location doesn't work.
"There's 20 kilometres of shore between that location and Holyrood. There's so much other area for this to go," he said.
For its part, OCI — a leading seafood processor in Newfoundland and Labrador — says it's dealing with a rigorous regulatory process that involves multiple departments, from the federal government down to the municipal level.
As for the location, OCI president Blaine Sullivan said there is no natural place for the project. He said no matter which area is chosen, there will have to be modifications.
"We really make our living from the ocean. Our 1,700 employees are depending on us to be good stewards of the ocean. And it's with that type of thinking that we are approaching this project," said Sullivan.
Sullivan also said OCI is consulting with residents. Sullivan said he has personally met with people, to see how the company can minimize concerns and how, if the project goes ahead, it can be done in a way that supports the overall development of the area.
'A very, very good economic impact'
The town council, meanwhile, is looking at the project in terms of the money it may bring in.
"This has the possibility of being a very, very good economic impact," said Conception Bay South Deputy Mayor Richard Murphy.
Murphy said once the facility is up and running, it will have 30 to 40 full-time workers, and will also have a positive impact on businesses around the port.
As for concerns from residents, Murphy said both the town and OCI see public consultation as being paramount to the process.
"We've agreed and we've committed to ensure that residents and business owners have ample opportunity to have their questions answered," he said.
The town's conditional approval of the project comes with a demand that a land use impact report will be reviewed by an independent company, according to Murphy.
There is still no set date for the matter to be brought before council for a vote but Murphy said he hopes it will be sooner rather than later.
"At the end of the day the town will have the final say as to whether or not this project is going to proceed," he said.
As for residents and business owners saying they were blindsided by the news, Murphy said in addition to advertising in the local paper, the town council sent out letters to anyone they thought would be affected.
Cahill says she did not receive a letter, and neither did the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club.
Coady said he did not receive a letter either and is in fact still waiting for a response to a Sept. 9 letter he sent to the town, asking for information about the project.