After years of inaction, the P.E.I. government says it will clean up the old concrete fabrication yard in Borden-Carleton. But the plan is meeting with skepticism from some Islanders who say they've heard it all before.
"I don't think I'd bet [on it] right yet," Borden-Carleton Mayor Charles MacKenzie told CBC News. "We've been told this quite a few times."
The fabrication yard is a 45-hectare waterfront property in Borden-Carleton, complete with a 300-metre steel and concrete wharf extending into the Northumberland Strait. But the government-owned site is also littered with massive slabs of concrete of various size and shapes, remnants from construction of the Confederation Bridge decades ago.
P.E.I.'s minister of economic development says the province will be issuing a request for proposals in January to finally clean up the site. It's a project that's certain to cost millions, according to Matthew MacKay.
"It is a bit of an eyesore," he said in an interview. "It should have been done years ago... It's a piece of property that holds significant value to the community."
MacKay said he doesn't know why digging up, busting up and hauling away those slabs has proven too great a task for previous governments, but he believes the three-year-old Progressive Conservative government of Dennis King may at last be ready to pluck this particular sword from the stone.
"We know there's quite a bit of interest there. There's a lot of great ideas, a lot of good companies wanting to move in there. We said, 'Now we can justify pay the price to clean it up,'" said MacKay.
A visit to the fabrication yard reveals a landscape reminiscent of Easter Island, Stonehenge, or a 1970s album cover by The Who. Megaliths of monochromatic grey rise from a wind-swept field. Heaps of asphalt have been dumped willy-nilly. The site is fenced. A padlocked gate stops visitors approaching from the rutted access road.
'It was a little bit unbelievable ... we had all these people lined up.' - Phillip Jennings, Maritime Atlantic Terminal
The province has sought expressions of interest from potential developers in the past. The King government did so once again earlier this year, but opted not to proceed — for the moment — with any of the nine responses it received.
Those proposals including housing, industrial and commercial development components.
"We could probably get quite a few of these businesses in that piece of property," said MacKay. "So we said, 'Let's clean it up and let's go back to all those nine proposals.'"
But that decision has left one bidder frustrated.
Phillip Jennings, a businessman with agricultural interests in P.E.I. and the southern U.S., says he and his corporate partners put thousands of dollars into their proposal to construct a port facility on the site. Their company, Maritime Atlantic Terminal, submitted the proposal in April and in November received a letter from Finance P.E.I. informing it of the decision to not proceed.
"It was a little bit unbelievable that after all those months, we just get a letter, and they just say, 'We may come back and look at proposals at another time,'" said Jennings. "We had all these people lined up to do business in Prince Edward Island and now they're moving to do business in the other Maritime provinces."
Restrictive covenant protects Strait Crossing
Giant slabs of concrete aren't the only stumbling blocks.
A restrictive covenant on the land essentially prohibits using the wharf and property to ship cargo on or off the island.
The property's former owner, Strait Crossing, placed the covenant on the land when it was sold to the province in 2008. That covenant requires a hefty payment to Strait Crossing if any shipping activity is conducted at the former fabrication site.
"Absolutely, we'll work with the province on projects," said Michel Lechasseur, general manager of the corporate entity that operates the Confederation Bridge. But if there's shipping activity that would divert goods that would otherwise incur a toll to come across the bridge, "we are owed compensation."
Strait Crossing also retains a legal right-of-way to access the wharf on the property, when and if major repairs have to be made to the bridge in the future.
As for Borden-Carleton, the mayor says too much of the community's prime waterfront has gone to industrial development in decades past. He says it's time for a new direction.
"We don't want a whole bunch of industries to go in there that's going to keep people up all night with the noise and stuff," said MacKenzie.
MacKay says the province will consult with the local community on what the future might hold for the property.