RODDICKTON-BIDE ARM, N.L.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
The provincial government is coming under fire from Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald after Scotiabank announced it would be closing its doors in the Northern Peninsula town.
Fitzgerald is concerned the town is losing businesses like Scotiabank because of the harsh economic realities it is facing.
However, she believes a forestry deal would help the town.
She says the town needs an announcement from government on a proposed forestry deal as soon as possible.
Active Energy Group, a British company, has proposed to manufacture wood pellets in forest management districts 17 and 18.
CEO Richard Spinks confirmed to The Northern Pen last fall that it is considering Roddickton-Bide Arm for the plant and sawmill.
According to the company, the pellet plant would create about 50 jobs, with additional employment at a local port.
The file has been in government hands since last year.
Fitzgerald feels a Forest Management Agreement with Active Energy Group could change the economic outlook for the town and help keep businesses like Scotiabank from leaving.
But she feels the longer it takes government to decide, the more it hurts the town.
She took to Facebook on Sept 15 to express her concerns.
“Our economy is struggling greatly and now local businesses are closing down as a result!” she wrote.
Fitzgerald questioned whether the provincial government was delaying the decision until election time to help get them votes.
Fitzgerald’s post sparked a response in the form of comments from St. Barbe – L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore, who denied government had delayed announcing the deal.
He cited the Grieg Aquaculture deal as a recent example of government issuing an announcement when a deal was made. He later cited additional examples to The Northern Pen, including the West White Rose project, Equinor sanctioning a new basin in the oil and gas industry, and a deal with S&P Data.
In response, Fitzgerald questioned how much of a priority the forestry sector on the Northern Peninsula was for Mitchelmore and the government.
Mitchelmore says it is a priority for him but emphasized the complexities of the file.
He told The Northern Pen he has been working on the forestry file for many years and has relayed this message to the town and to the stakeholders.
However, he says a lot goes into the decision-making process.
“When one is dealing with a publicly owned resource, a publicly traded company, another company that was lent significant funds, and a requirement to consider the net positive impacts to treasury, local area and other factors, changes to policies, information requests and updates to plans, all these factors have an impact on the timeline it takes government to come to a final decision,” he wrote to The Northern Pen. “Government has an obligation to due proper due diligence and not rush into making decisions that are not in the best interest for the long-term.
“When Government is in a position to publicly convey any such deal, it will do so.”
A sense of desperation
Historically, the town of Roddickton-Bide Arm was built on the forestry sector. But there’s been little work in that area since the plant closed in 2012.
“We were built on the forestry and closing a big business like that hurt us greatly,” Fitzgerald told The Northern Pen.
Last month, The Northern Pen reported that Coates Lumber, a sawmill in nearby Main Brook, had stopped buying logs from wood contractors and laid off seven of the mill’s nine employees.
Ed Coates, the mill’s owner, said his stockpile of lumber was too great; he couldn’t sell what he already has, much less take on more.
This has added to the worry for the town and local wood contractors.
Fitzgerald says she was left with the impression a deal would be announced sooner.
In early May, the Department of Fisheries and Land Resources held a meeting with Northern Peninsula municipal leaders and forestry operators.
“They told us then there wasn’t many pieces to clew up and all the paperwork would be complete,” she told The Northern Pen.
She added that in July she contacted the director for forestry and was told they were waiting for the last remaining piece from justice and then the proposal was ready to go to cabinet for approval.
But no deal has been announced.
“Now the summer is gone and all the seasonal workers either struggled through summer to get their hours or left the community,” she said. “Now businesses are closed because the negative impact of economic reality in the town.”
Mitchelmore says he understands how the town is feeling.
“I understand the pressures small towns face and the desire to see projects advance that lead to jobs and growth,” he said. “As MHA, there is nothing I want more than to see jobs and investment on the Great Northern Peninsula East.”
The Department of Fisheries and Land Resource issued a statement to The Northern Pen indicating it could not provide a timeframe on a decision.
“This is the first long-term forest tenure consideration since the time of the paper companies, and decisions cannot be made without full consideration of the comments and concerns of all government departments, communities and stakeholders,” the department said in its statement. “We cannot provide a specific timeframe on this decision – the process will be given the full time required to ensure an informed decision can be made.”
The department expressed a commitment to the sustainable use of the forest resources on the Northern Peninsula, stating, “We recognize that finding a solution to restart this industry is significant for this area.”