By Andrew Bates
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The chief of a First Nation looking to build a contentious lobster holding facility in Chamcook Harbour asked a roomful of its potential neighbours to “make a partnership” for mutual benefit.
Chief Allan Polchies of Sitansisk (St. Mary’s) First Nation spoke Monday night to a special meeting of Saint Andrews’ Planning Advisory Committee.
Sitansisk is seeking approval for a lobster holding facility on St. Andrew’s Road North in Chamcook, which was originally approved pre-amalgamation by the regional service commission planning board in 2022 before residents appealed to the province, which sent it to the Town of Saint Andrews with recommendations.
“We want to move forward and bring economic opportunity to our people and to your people,” Polchies said.
The 7,000 square-foot facility would be used to hold up to 80,000 pounds of “dormant” live lobster caught in Chamcook Harbour and elsewhere for periods from a few days to two months until it can be sold. The facility still needs an environmental impact assessment for the 75 litres per second of water it would need from the saltwater well on site and approvals for a drainage pipe that would go into the harbour, as well as a new access onto the provincially maintained road.
The area is zoned for rural use, according to the Chamcook municipal plan, which allows for residential and “non-polluting”
light industrial use. The question, according to Alex Henderson, planner for the Southwest New Brunswick Service Commission, is whether the lobster facility counts as light industrial, because the live animals are stored and shipped as products but aren’t processed like livestock. Henderson noted that light industrial use does include some presence of trucks and noise from trucks.
The province’s planning appeal board ruled that residents hadn’t been given appropriate time and notice to access staff reports required in the RSC bylaws, and the project was sent back with direction to consider wider notice and to consider concerns raised during the appeal process. This time the town sent mailouts to residents within a kilometre of the site, rather than 200 metres, and received “multiple letters of objection” in return, Henderson said.
Planning staff recommended to approve the building, with requirements including to surround the site with a three-metre concrete wall in some areas, with a five-metre vegetation buffer for the rest, that sound-dampening walls and doors surround exterior equipment, that no industrial processing take place, that lighting direct downwards and not into lots or the harbour, that dead animal waste be stored inside in odour-proof containers before it can be taken to the dump, and that all loading or off-loading take place during daytime hours.
Coun. Andrea Harland, a member of the committee, asked a number of questions including what happens with the wastewater, including cleaning fluid.
Adrian Desbarats, a marine biologist brought in as a consultant on the project, said that the lobsters would not be fed while on site, and his analysis indicate that they would generate at most seven kilograms of physical waste a month, compared to the 600 kg produced by the Saint Andrews municipal wastewater system. He said that a freshwater flush with air drying once a year would be enough to clean the tanks.
Desbarats said that the facility would see about 15 trips a week during the busiest months, with trips in and out when the catches are coming in, and a smaller number of trips out the month or two following to sell the remaining lobster when prices are good.
Fourteen residents spoke against the facility at the meeting, which had to be moved to the larger dining room at the W.C. O’Neill arena complex and was streamed on Zoom.
Nearby resident Brenda Weiwood, a former member of the Chamcook LSD, said that the building is not compatible with surrounding lots, which include residential lots and a boat launch sometimes used by fishing vessels. Weiwood said that the approval should be delayed until the post-amalgamation municipal plan review is finished.
Gayle Reed, whose property is adjacent, said that the poorly maintained road is too narrow for trucks, and asked who will provide alternate water sources if there is saltwater intrusion in the well.
“It’s better to plan ahead than play catch-up,” Reed said.
She also noted that the shoreline has erosion issues, and may cut into the vegetation buffer, and also said there was a property line dispute with the shared border.
Several residents brought up the residential character of the area, with risks for children walking on the road, impacts on property values, noise and odours. Julie Levesque-Taylor, a doctor who moved to the area three years ago, said she did so for “trees, ocean and quiet” and may not have chosen to do so if the facility was there.
Former fisheries minister Rick Doucet, who was listed as part of Sitansisk’s team on a speaker’s list, got up to say there was “a lot of fear of the unknown” but there was “not one person with some scientific information,” asking the committee not to drag out the process any further.
Polchies spoke last, saying residents had offered “not one positive remark” about the project, and said his responsibility was to find economic drivers to help feed the members of his community, located to the north of Fredericton. He said that despite residents’ comments about property values, Indigenous people were forced onto reserves and now have to find land outside their areas.
“We need to expand and come together and have that path forward for all of our children,” he said.
The planning advisory committee voted to table the variance approval until its March meeting.
Andrew Bates/ Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL/LJI is a federally funded program