Individuals and organizations from towns near Nalcor’s Bull Arm facility expressed their concerns over possible negative impacts from the Hebron project, as they addressed the Hebron Public Review Commission on Thursday.
The focus was on already problem areas and whether the project might compound existing problems. Topping those areas of concern was housing.
“Those working outside of the oil industry — teachers, fish plant workers, childcare workers, store clerks, the kind people communities need to survive and thrive — are struggling to be able to afford housing,” warned co-ordinator of the Isthmus Research Project study, Michelle Porter. That research, out of Memorial University, is looking at maximizing benefits to the region from industrial projects.
In a submitted statement, operators of the not-for-profit Neighbourhood of Friends Family Resource Centre (NFFRC), based in Clarenville, said Hebron employees have been joining their offered programs within the past few weeks.
Yet while welcoming new members, the NFFRC has been facing housing crises with some of its 725 or so existing members. Staff recently discovered three participating families facing homelessness because of high rent.
“One was asked to move out that very next month with a notice that was back dated two months; another was told that her rent was increasing from $650 to $1,600 in the upcoming month and the other was advised to look for other accommodations because she would not be able to afford the rent anymore,” reads their submission to the commission.
As the local housing support worker was focused more on assisting individuals with complex needs, the staff took it upon themselves to do what they could for the families. They put in hours on the phones.
“One family did find a person who showed compassion and rented to them at a higher but manageable rate. Another family was allowed to stay in their rental unit as the landlord agreed to delay the increase, but this is only a temporary solution. The third family was forced to leave the area.”
Housing support worker Tracey Coady submitted a statement citing concerns around affordability of housing and possible evictions.
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“With no shelter in the area, these individuals have absolutely nowhere to go,” she stated.
She warned this type of pressure holds the potential to increase criminal activity, as people try to afford continued use of their homes.
Based at the Clarenville detachment, RCMP Sgt. David Hains told The Telegram Coady’s statement would be pure speculation. He noted increased populations and incomes, commonly seen with large natural resource projects, can be enough to affect crime statistics.
He said the RCMP would watch for any problems that might arise, but also said many of the “doom and gloom” predictions about an explosion of criminal activity in the days of Hibernia ultimately failed to come true.
Meanwhile, as regional municipalities monitor housing and crime rates, Robert Snook, the mayor of the Town of Sunnyside, said basic infrastructure is on the list of areas of possible impact.
He said Sunnyside is next door to Bull Arm, but has not felt any significant benefit from use of the site. It has however, he stated, been left to deal with increased road traffic from workers on Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose.
“While these large megaprojects have brought enormous benefits to the province as a whole, the interests of Sunnyside have so far been largely ignored,” Snook claimed. However, “this is about to change.”
He said the town and the Hebron project leaders have planned a grant in lieu of taxes for the town.
“It means we no longer have to scratch for funding to make some necessary repairs. And it means we can tackle issues of sustainability and development in a way that makes economic sense.”
As has been the case throughout the review sessions to date, both Commissioner Miller Ayre and ExxonMobil Canada representatives, including Hebron project leader Geoff Parker, were on hand to engage with the presenters.
The Hebron Public Review Committee will hold its next public meeting Monday, beginning 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn in St. John’s.