Ocean Choice International president Blaine Sullivan is engaged in a public relations campaign over his company's ambitious but controversial project proposal — a campaign he says he's confident will be successful.
Sullivan says people will see the benefits of a proposed infill project of 17,000 square metres to build a wharf and storage facility in the middle of Long Pond harbour in Conception Bay South.
"I really believe that when we have all our information out there and people can see it that they'll look on this positively," he said.
There are a lot of questions.
After the town approved the project in principle, residents started a community group, Advocates for the Responsible Development of Long Pond, calling for more public consultation and an environmental assessment.
Their concerns range from potential flooding to possible damage to local ecosystems.
In an attempt to address the concerns, Sullivan has met with people individually and in small groups. OCI also created a website about the project that goes over possible benefits, a list of what people can expect should the project come to fruition and answers to questions sent in by residents.
A staff member has also been answering questions on Facebook and discussing the company's point of view.
"Based upon a lot of concerns locally, we have hired a firm to do a greater study of the harbour and to deal with how it affects flooding, tides, sedimentation, wave actions around the port," said Sullivan.
Many of the residents voicing concerns, however, still want to see an environmental assessment completed. But that's looking unlikely.
OCI submitted a proposal to the province's environmental assessment division in August 2018 and the province decided one was not needed.
"The proposed area to be infilled is less than five hectares and is not located within an estuary," reads the decision.
What makes an estuary an estuary?
CBC News spoke with residents who insist the Long Pond harbour area is an estuary, but an email to CBC from a spokesperson with the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities says "not every freshwater input into salt water constitutes an estuary," and the department has never considered Long Pond to be one.
"Several permits for the alteration of a body of water, including infilling projects, have been issued under the Water Resources Act for projects in Long Pond without requiring provincial environmental assessment," reads the email.
The department did not specify how it determines what qualifies as an estuary.
Assessment or not, Sullivan says his company has met every regulatory requirement asked of it over the past 2½ years.
That includes requirements from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
'Fish habitat compensation'
"We're creating an artificial reef and actually it's twice as big as the area that we're infilling," said Sullivan.
The plan is called "fish habitat compensation" and it will be monitored by DFO for five years.
"The department is satisfied with the proponent's plan to mitigate and offset the impacts of their activities on fish habitat," says a statement from a department spokesperson.
Memorial University physics professor and longtime environmental advocate Len Zedel doesn't see much of a case for having an assessment based on nature alone.
"This is not pristine wilderness that we're talking about in this instance," he said, pointing out the harbour serves as an industrial area.
Good for the community?
But Zedel says there is a different argument for having an environmental assessment.
He notes the government's stated purpose of having an assessment is to "protect the environment and quality of life of the people of the province," according to a statement on the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities' website, which also says it requires "anyone who plans a project that could have a significant effect on the natural, social or economic environment to present the project for examination."
"From that perspective it would be reasonable to review the project through that lens and decide, is this a good way to go? Is this a good project for this community?" he said.
Zedel also said having an environmental assessment can also protect the company if they do it properly. He said it can mean community buy-in and help avoid problems down the road — for example, he said, the noise that will be generated by the cold storage warehouse's refrigeration units.
"Those fans are going to make noise and potentially be running all night long and disturb the community, so to me that struck me as a concern that should be looked into," he said.