Petroleum storage project has Big River residents worried

Petroleum storage project has Big River residents worried

Residents of the rural community of Big River, outside Bathurst, are concerned about a proposal to build a petroleum storage site near their homes.

The Department of Environment and Local Government is considering the proposed rezoning of a piece of land on Big River Road from residential to highway commercial.

This would pave the way for Michaud Petroleum, a Grand Falls-based subsidiary of Shell, to build a fuel depot.

The depot would receive and store 500,000 litres of petroleum products — including diesel, gas and furnace oil — in five  underground reservoirs, for subsequent distribution to clients. 

The development would include a loading and offloading area, as well as an office for sales and management.

Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC

But with the site edging the entrance to a housing subdivision, some residents say the proposal is too close to their homes and worry about the risk of potential spills, especially since the community is on well water.

"The water table here is extremely close to the top of the ground," said Kenneth Leet, whose house is down the road from the proposed site.

"What would happen if it ever happened that there was a spill?" he asked. "Who's going to clean this up? What's [the proponent's] plan B?" 

Residents attended a first public hearing about the proposed rezoning on July 3. By Thursday this week, 170 residents had signed letters voicing their concerns and hand-delivered them to the office of the Department of Environment and Local Government in Fredericton.

They worry about the value of their houses going down if the project goes through, and whether there will be a smell coming from the plant.

"An industry like petroleum belongs in an industrial park, not in a residential community," said Veronica Stever, who lives a few houses down on Big River Road, and helped collect and deliver the letters.

Not the first time

The site is across the road from the former Chaleur Mall, where the same company had plans for a similar project — that one for storing one million litres of oil, back in 2015.

CBC

Michaud Petroleum has since sold the land and abandoned plans there.

The project faced fierce opposition from residents at the time, and a petition against it was presented at the legislature by Green Party Leader David Coon.

Though this project is for a smaller operation, the residents' concerns are the same as four years ago. 

"This is about doing the right thing for the environment," said Leet. "The right thing for the people. There's lots of places he could put this. He's targeting this area for some reason."

Michaud Petroleum did not return calls to CBC News. The regional service commission referred a request for an interview to the province.

Gabrielle Fahmy/CBC

The Department of Environment and Local Government said there will be a public meeting for citizens to voice their concerns.

The proposal will be back in front of the Chaleur regional service commission Tuesday, and a recommendation will be made to the minister about the proposed rezoning.

The company would then need approval for construction and license to operate, under the Clean Environment Act.