Proposed Cooke project grows to $70M in Bayside

·4 min read

Cooke Aquaculture is continuing to perform water sustainability testing to support a proposed $70-million post-smolt salmon facility it plans to build in Bayside.

Company officials say the project has also been registered for an environmental impact assessment, while ongoing pump tests take place to study production wells drilled for the facility. The 100,000-square-foot aquaculture hatchery, set to be built in the Champlain Industrial Park, is needed to increase the size, not the quantity, of salmon, according to project proponents.

The cost of the project had been pegged at $35 million, but it has since doubled, company officials told community members gathered at a public session held at the Bayside Community Hall Monday night.

"Since we started the project in 2017, the engineering and technology has advanced and that's also more expensive now than when it was in 2017 and over the last number of years," said Joel Richardson, vice-president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture.

The project has raised some concerns over the potential impact on the local water supply as the facility will draw from the Chamcook Lake aquifer, the only water source for Saint Andrews.

In 2021, officials with Cooke Aquaculture and Kelly Cove Salmon secured the support of Saint Andrews town council to drill five wells – three for water production and two for observation – to test out the sustainability of water in the area.

But since the time Cooke presented to town council, a new technology will now allow the proposed facility to draw less freshwater from the aquifer if the project moves ahead, according to a company official.

Richardson said the current plan will see "a very modest change in the freshwater use, it's actually more usage of salt water from the Bay that will be mixed with the freshwater."

Plans are now to mix salt water with freshwater to create brackish water in order to raise the fish, Richardson said.

"The saltwater intake and our saltwater wells that are drilled on property down at the industrial park, that's really where the difference is and in the change from the previous presentations," he said.

Construction of the facility could take about two to three years after the environmental impact assessment and the monitoring of the wells are complete, ensuring that the wells are sustainable for at least 20 years, according to Marc Sorensen, the president of Sorensen Engineering Ltd., a Saint Andrews-based company that is working as the contracted engineer on the project.

About 250 construction jobs could be expected and as many as 12 full-time jobs at the facility could be created, Richardson said.

Saint Andrews Mayor Brad Henderson, who was in attendance at Monday's session, said he appreciated the transparency of Cooke Aquaculture about the project.

"Ideally you want the project to go ahead, but there is a certain level of due diligence that you want to do as a community," he said.

He noted the aquifer is the only water source for the town, and if the project is moving ahead, he said there should be a reassurance after the studies that the "lake level is not going to be impacted."

Henderson said he's looking forward to sitting down with New Brunswick's environment department to understand the project more and ask questions to them because "so far all of our communication has been through Cooke and not the department."

Gary W. James, a member of Bayside Local Service District (LSD), remains concerned about the project depleting the water source for Saint Andrews. He said there are going to be more houses built in the future and they are going to need to tap into the same water supply.

"We're not making any more water and that's our concern," he said.

Richardson said the major use of freshwater at the hatchery will be during the recharge seasons of spring and fall. He added that rain will maintain water levels, which will keep the lake healthy.

Brian D. Glebe, chair of the Chamcook LSD, is a retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientist. He said the amount of freshwater the company plans to use is not a lot. He made some suggestions based on his experience at the session asking some technical questions.

The environmental impact assessment is expected to be completed by Christmas and then the company will be waiting on a determination from the province, Richardson said.

"It will essentially be the most modern, technologically advanced, aquaculture Canada after it is developed."

- With files from Marlo Glass

Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal