Residents from Whitbourne to Chapel Arm to Placentia refer to it lovingly as the F-150 parade. It is the train of pickup trucks running twice a day to and from the site of what will be Vale’s hydromet processing plant at Long Harbour.
The parade of construction workers — like coffee cups now passing with regularity out the window of the Robin’s drive-thru — has been held up as a sign of the positive economic impact of the mining development.
However, the spinoff story is not quite as clear if you actually make it into L.A. “Long ‘Arbour. L.A.,” says town postmaster Wanda Keating with a laugh, joyfully slapping the counter in front of her, saying she and others in the town of Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights tend not to refer to the town by its full name.
The post office is built into the basement of Keating’s home. She said sorting the town mail used to take her about 20 minutes, but now takes her 45 minutes to an hour. “There’s a lot more stuff coming in,” she said, attributing it to workers from the site.
That said, plenty of mail and packages destined for the site take a direct route via courier and never making into the town proper, Keating noted.
Getting into Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights likely means driving over the gorgeously smooth Long Harbour Access Road (or Argentia Access Road, depending on who you ask) from Route 100 to the entrance of the Vale site. As you pass the site, turning into community, the road rapidly deteriorates.
The total budget for the town this year is $1 million.
The year before last, many town roads were paved at a cost of about half a million dollars — but driving in, you wouldn’t know it.
“The main road going through the town is the responsibility of the provincial government and that (road) is absolutely ridiculous,” Mayor Gary Keating said.
The town has requested the province fix up the main road in the coming year.
Capital works woes
In a Feb. 21 town council meeting, a motion was called for “the acquisition of boots and coveralls.”
“The town manager (Juanita Gosse) is interested in learning as much as she can about the daily maintenance of our water system. She feels this is necessary so that she can oversee the system and ensure our drinking water is safe, should the need arise,” state minutes from the meeting.
“She doesn’t have work boots or coveralls which she feels she needs to work at the pump house.”
The motion on her behalf was passed.
Meanwhile, upgrades to the town water system first announced in 2009 — $1.4 million for a water treatment plant and water reservoir (cost shared with provincial and federal governments) — have yet to be completed.
“The project is on hold pending issues with respect to water leakage which, if not addressed, would have an impact on the size of the water treatment plant required for the town,” a representative with the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs informed The Telegram.
The town is now requesting funding for another $1.3 million “water infrastructure repair” project in 2012. The mayor says the proposal includes upgrades required before the 2009-approved work can happen.
No decision has been made as to whether the latest proposal will receive funding.
The mayor said investment into “host” communities, connected with natural resource-related projects, should be a given. “If you are the host town, you have to see significant positive effects,” he said.
He also said it is necessary to see people from the area employed at the Long Harbour site post-construction.
Otherwise, “they’re not going to stay here.”
Census results for the town suggest positive spinoff from the multibillion-dollar project.
In 2001, the population of Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights was recorded at 362 people. In 2006, the count was 211 — a 41 per cent decrease. As of the last census, in 2011, the population had bumped back up to 298.
However, in comparison, nearby Placentia has recorded a steady decrease from 4,400 residents in 2001 to 3,643 in 2011.
A first glance at school enrollment numbers might suggest positive spinoff, in the attraction of families with young children to the area.
The population at St. Anne’s Academy in Dunville grew from 199 students in the 2009-10 school year to 239 in 2011-12. At the same time, Laval High School in Placentia grew from 184 students to 284 students.
Yet, in the same time period a K-8 school (St. Edmund’s) closed. The closure came simultaneously with the expansion of Laval from grades 9-12 to a grades 7-12 school and the changes together can account for higher enrollment numbers. Meanwhile, enrolment at Whitbourne Elementary has steadily declined.
In healthcare, there has been no marked increase of in-patients at the Placentia Health Centre, as might come with regional development and population growth. Numbers provided in a detailed breakdown by Eastern Health, focusing from April 2008 to April 2012, show an up and down movement of in-patient numbers. The total was 352 in 2008-09 and 247 last year (patients are counted more than once if admitted more than once).
The growth period
This is not to say the Vale project has been worthless to the area.
On the contrary, in Long Harbour, the development ended a 20-year search for a business to take over the vacant “special industrial” space occupied to 1989 by the ERCO phosphorus plant.
Executive director at the Long Harbour Development Corporation, Joe Bennett pointed to 25 new “mini-homes” and a new fire station, with a new fire truck.
The Long Harbour Lodge is newly built and opened in 2011. It currently serves the work site as a staff house. The development corporation is a part-owner in the building and is considering its use as a hotel in future.
More new housing is part of the plans, as 450-500 staff begin day to day operations at the Vale plant. “We anticipate a number of those will want to live and reside in Long Harbour, in close proximity to where their worksite is,” Bennett said.
A new subdivision is going up and will offer from 25-40 housing units.
The current focus is to draw into the town some of the businesses tapping the estimated $125 million in annual procurement contracts associated with the Vale plant.
An industrial park, a gas station, a place to eat and a new recreation plan have all been part of discussions at town hall, though nothing is finalized.
Deputy mayor of nearby Chapel Arm, Shawn Reid, said he believes gas stations and garages in his town have been benefitting during plant construction. A new Home Hardware has gone up as well.
There has been some employment. An electrician by trade, Reid worked at the site for two years and estimated about 30 people from Chapel Arm alone have found work there at some point.
As for the town, “we’re looking to extend our boundaries for more housing,” he said.
Whether those properties will be filled as the Long Harbour project transitions from construction into operation — from thousands of workers to hundreds — remains to be seen.
Reid was asked if he personally approved of the project.
“It depends on what it’s going to be like when it gets up and running. What the pollution’s going to be. But if it’s what they say it’s going to be, it should be no trouble,” he said.
“As for as I’m hearing it’s positive. Except for the traffic in the mornings. A lot of people are upset over that, but that’s just one of the spinoffs.”
New builds: Long Harbour-Mount Arlington Heights
2010 — 32 residential (mini-homes), one commercial
2011 — Two residential, two commercial
2012 — (To date) Two residential, plus start Middle Pond Subdivision (25-40 living units)