Dave McGrath, owner of Celtic Aerospace & Business Strategies, supports a wind-to-hydrogen project proposed for Newfoundland's west coast and hopes it will improve the economy for other local businesses. (Amy Feehan/CBC)
Despite some snowy weather, hundreds of people braved cold weather this weekend to show support for World Energy GH2's proposed wind-to-hydrogen megaproject.
The project aims to build hundreds of wind turbines in the area, along with a hydrogen production facility in Stephenville.
To date, much of the public activity about the proposal has been against it.
Some Indigenous leaders attended Saturday's rally to show their support for a project they think will benefit their communities.
"This kind of project is going to kick-start an industry that's going to bring our people home, keep our people home, keep our kids home, and build a local economy that we've been hoping for for decades," said Chief Jasen Benwah of the Benoit First Nation.
Chief Peggy White of the Three Rivers Mi'kmaw band said having more jobs in the area will strengthen and preserve Indigenous culture.
"If our children have to leave, we lose our culture," said White. "This project allows our children to get educated, get skills in trades, and stay at home."
The proposed project still requires environmental approval from the provincial government and has drawn a variety of criticism from some residents, ranging from concerns about environmental impacts to questions about the viability of the hydrogen business.
White says the criticism is based in fear and misinformation.
"People get afraid when there's change," she said. "Sometimes change is good and we can use that change to build stable communities."
Hundreds of supporters of World Energy GH2's proposed project gathered in snowy weather Saturday. Representatives of local construction companies who showed up in their vehicles were among those showing support. (Amy Feehan/CBC)
Dave McGrath, a volunteer at the rally, had a message for any critics of the proposed project.
"Thank you for being the opposition, we want to hear your voice, you've raised some valid concerns," McGrath said.
"We're listening. The government is listening, World Energy is listening. And what we're saying is, let's work together, let's collaborate. This can be done. It can be successful."
McGrath said organizers wanted the rally to be "very positive" and non-partisan.
"It was a citizens' show of support for the project to the government as well as to World Energy," he said, noting the rally had no representatives from government or World Energy GH2. However, both he and White have appeared in promotional videos produced by World Energy GH2 and posted on the company's YouTube channel.
McGrath says the project represents a potential big boost to the Stephenville economy.
"Our hope and our vision for this is that we're going to have a very large-scale industry here, starting up very soon, which is going to bring a lot of skilled labour and high paying jobs for the people of this region," he said.
"We can keep our people home, have a great industrial base, and raise the standard of living across the board."