Feeling the boom

Terry Roberts
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Economic impacts starting to be felt as construction continues on Long Harbour megaproject

Close your eyes and imagine this. You're a tiny community at the end of a dead-end road, and most of your 280 citizens are retirees, living in mostly quaint homes dotted along a rugged shoreline and surrounded by hills.

There's nowhere to buy a sit-down meal, or even fill a vehicle's gas tank. There's no school, and the few students are bused elsewhere.

Signs of progress are springing up in Long Harbour. - Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

Close your eyes and imagine this. You're a tiny community at the end of a dead-end road, and most of your 280 citizens are retirees, living in mostly quaint homes dotted along a rugged shoreline and surrounded by hills.

There's nowhere to buy a sit-down meal, or even fill a vehicle's gas tank. There's no school, and the few students are bused elsewhere.

Your population has been cut in half since a phosphorous plant once located across the harbour ceased operation about two decades ago. Times have been hard.

But today there are new homes being built inside your boundaries at a rapid pace, business operators from all over are making advances to your leaders, looking for development permits and land, and a new fire hall is nearing completion.

Your once-quiet streets are now bustling with dump trucks and other heavy equipment, and the site of heavy-duty pickup trucks complete with warning lights and tall safety flags attached to the rear bumper are more common than passenger cars.

There are tax breaks for your citizens. High speed Internet has arrived. There are more town staff and they're working longer hours, for more money and with better resources. More than two-dozen of your citizens have recently gained meaningful employment, and more jobs are on the horizon.

And this is just the start. Even better days are ahead as construction on a megaproject valued at US$2.8 billion slowly moves into high gear on the other side of a narrow strip of salt water.

Now open your eyes.

This is the reality for the Town of Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights.

"It's a job to get out of your own driveway sometimes," says Patsy Brothers, a local resident.

A year ago, you could stand in the middle of the main road for long periods before having to move for a vehicle, and you could hear a crow shriek from great distances.

Not anymore. You're more likely to hear the bucket of an excavator clang as it bites into the earth.

"People are making money. I just hope we all don't regret it in the end," Brothers says.

There are signs of renewed prosperity just about everywhere. Utility crews are busy installing poles. Millions have been spent on new paving for area roads. There's money for water system upgrades, and plans for new recreation facilities. A new subdivision with some 30 mini-homes is almost complete, and there's talk of a second, even larger one.

A 45-room motel is to be built, along with a large training complex that will eventually be turned over to the town. The number of businesses is expected to double in the coming years, and even the local Catholic church is about to undergo much-needed repairs.

It's all thanks to a decision by mining giant Vale Inco to build a new nickel processing plant in the area. When completed in 2013, the plant will process concentrate shipped from the company's mine in Voisey's Bay, Labrador.

Construction is still in the early stage, but the project has already had a significant impact on the region. Some major construction contracts are expected to be awarded in the coming weeks, and employment levels will increase dramatically from the 500 workers currently at the site.

The project is expected to breathe new life into an area that suffered a succession of economic blows over the past 20 years, including the closure of the U.S. naval base at nearby Argentia and the phosphorous plant at Long Harbour and a downturn in the fishery.

The region's population was practically cut in half. Infrastructure deteriorated. Businesses closed. Young people moved away. But local leaders hung tough, in hopes of a brighter future, and a new era seems to be emerging.

"It's an exciting time," says Placentia-St. Mary's MHA Felix Collins. "It's difficult to fathom where it will be in a couple of years."

Collins said the impact of the project is being felt throughout his district, around the province, and across Canada.

He believes the most dramatic impacts will be felt in the towns of Placentia, Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights, and Whitbourne.

Whitbourne is seeing a surge in residential development because of its proximity to Long Harbour, the Bull Arm fabrication facility and St. John's. And Placentia is a regional hub with a solid combination of top-notch businesses, port facilities and other amenities.

"These places will grow by leaps and bounds," said Collins.

Back in Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights, there's a new sense of optimism.

"I really like what I'm seeing," said Gen Bruce, who runs the community's only hair salon.

Because of the nature of her home-based business, Bruce interacts daily with a good portion of the community. She said citizens are generally positive about the project. A smaller number express concern about things like pollution, and the possibility that an increase in activity and prosperity might attract drugs and crime.

"The main thing people talk about is jobs for Newfoundlanders," she says.

The project's massive footprint, however, has forced a change in the traditional activities of some area residents, and longtime hunting, fishing and camping areas are now off limits.

Homeowners have also seen their property values increase. A home assessed at $25,000 three years ago is now valued at up to $80,000, says Mayor Gary Keating.

Keating also chairs the town's development corporation, which is working to ensure the town maximizes its benefits from the project.

The town's leaders have also faced their share of criticism over the number of jobs available to residents. But that has diminished as more and more jobs become available, Keating says.

"We have to realize what's in the best interest of the community," he says. "At the end of the day, a lot of towns are envious of us."

troberts@thetelegram.com

Monday: How the Roman Catholic parish in Long Harbour is benefiting from increased prosperity.

Organizations: Catholic church

Geographic location: Long Harbour, Placentia, Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights Voisey U.S. Canada St. John's

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Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • TaxWatch
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    Thanks to the Liberal Government of Roger Grimes for getting an excellent agreement.

    This is the deal that the PCs tried to kill.

  • p
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    HELLO ......DID YA NOT SEE THE ARTICLE ...ABOUT LONG HARBOUR LAYOFFS ...LAST WEEK .....MOST OF NIGHT SHIFT GONE ..AND DAYSHIFT LAYOFFS START THIS WEEK

  • W
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Hey Danny, did you find the loopholes yet?

  • Taxpayer lV
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    It's yet to be seen just how good this Liberal contract is. When the plant is up and running, and we are receiving all the ore that was shipped to Quebec from other mines in the world, that's when I will applaud the wonderful Liberal contract.
    Oh, Vale just laid off a buch of people in Long Hr. and the operation in Voisey Bay hasn't been producing for months. So let's just all hope and pray that Roger's brainchild pays off.

  • Mandy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    So glad to hear that Long Harbour is going to be doing well. That road going to it need major repairs, so I'm glad that it is finally happening. It's a step in the right direction if you ask me! :)

  • Murphy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    What is with all the negativity from people? Long Harbour was previously a distination only. You went there if you had a reason to, there was no passing through, now people have a reason to go....and invest, and settle down. What's wrong with looking for the positive side of this development?!? I just don't get how people can't possibly see the good in this. Of course there will be some negative too but why not focus and capitalize on the positive? I for one am happy to see Long Harbour prosperous once again. A few years ago you could see the end in the sight and now there's a new beginning. I'm looking forward to what the future has in store for my hometown.

  • daren
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    good for long harbour and the union gangsters but no jobs for the local people unless you are in the family

  • Cheri
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I'd say that an increase in crime and drug use will be more than just a possibility . Everyone knows that you can't have the good without the bad, sadly it just doesn't work that way. Ask the community of Fort McMurray. Not meaning to be the voice of doom and gloom. Happy to hear of growth of prosperity anywhere, especially here!

  • TaxWatch
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    Thanks to the Liberal Government of Roger Grimes for getting an excellent agreement.

    This is the deal that the PCs tried to kill.

  • p
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    HELLO ......DID YA NOT SEE THE ARTICLE ...ABOUT LONG HARBOUR LAYOFFS ...LAST WEEK .....MOST OF NIGHT SHIFT GONE ..AND DAYSHIFT LAYOFFS START THIS WEEK

  • W
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    Hey Danny, did you find the loopholes yet?

  • Taxpayer lV
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    It's yet to be seen just how good this Liberal contract is. When the plant is up and running, and we are receiving all the ore that was shipped to Quebec from other mines in the world, that's when I will applaud the wonderful Liberal contract.
    Oh, Vale just laid off a buch of people in Long Hr. and the operation in Voisey Bay hasn't been producing for months. So let's just all hope and pray that Roger's brainchild pays off.

  • Mandy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    So glad to hear that Long Harbour is going to be doing well. That road going to it need major repairs, so I'm glad that it is finally happening. It's a step in the right direction if you ask me! :)

  • Murphy
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    What is with all the negativity from people? Long Harbour was previously a distination only. You went there if you had a reason to, there was no passing through, now people have a reason to go....and invest, and settle down. What's wrong with looking for the positive side of this development?!? I just don't get how people can't possibly see the good in this. Of course there will be some negative too but why not focus and capitalize on the positive? I for one am happy to see Long Harbour prosperous once again. A few years ago you could see the end in the sight and now there's a new beginning. I'm looking forward to what the future has in store for my hometown.

  • daren
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    good for long harbour and the union gangsters but no jobs for the local people unless you are in the family

  • Cheri
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    I'd say that an increase in crime and drug use will be more than just a possibility . Everyone knows that you can't have the good without the bad, sadly it just doesn't work that way. Ask the community of Fort McMurray. Not meaning to be the voice of doom and gloom. Happy to hear of growth of prosperity anywhere, especially here!