It wouldn’t have cost the government a cent, but the province just isn’t interested in studying the possibility of setting up a marine conservation area on the province’s south coast.
Environment Minister Tom Hedderson isn’t terribly interested in telling people about why the government won’t study the proposal, either. He would not do an interview with The Telegram for this story, and Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons says the government waited nearly an entire year before revealing that it nixed the proposal.
For a decade or more, towns on the south coast around Burgeo, Ramea and Grey River have wanted to look at the possibility of a marine conservation area — essentially akin to a national park for the waters off their coastline.
Parks Canada offered to pay for a feasibility study to look at that possibility, but it needed the approval of the province before it started the study.
Apparently, the province turned down that proposal in February, 2012, but it seems like it didn’t tell anybody about that.
Parsons said he didn’t find out about it until a year later. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) released a study in January 2013 in which it doesn’t seem to be aware that the government had shut down the proposal.
See MINISTER, page A4
Minister said study was being considered after it was killed: Parsons
“The process to launch a federal-provincial feasibility study has been stalled for many years, awaiting formal endorsement of the federal and provincial governments,” the 2013 report from CPAWS says.
“Meanwhile the spectacular fjord region remains vulnerable to oil and gas exploration and overﬁshing, and the historic outport culture continues to decline as the historic fishing industry remains moribund.”
The report talks about how the south coast of the province is habitat for blue, humpback, fin and killer whales, along with leatherback turtles.
Parsons said in March 2012, when he asked then-environment minister Terry French about the study of the marine conservation area, French said they were still looking at it — a month after the government killed the proposal.
“I don’t want to throw Terry French under the bus, but I was told in March 2012 that the decision was not imminent,” Parsons said. “They’d already made a decision and didn’t tell anybody — did not tell Burgeo, did not tell me, did not make it public.”
According to Parsons, the only reason given for turning down the Parks Canada offer to fund a feasibility study was because of possible future aquaculture development and potential for subsea oil and mineral exploration.
But for Burgeo Mayor Gerald MacDonald, the promise of potential future development just isn’t good enough.
“That can stand still for 100 years like that,” he said. “Their reason was because of future economic development in the area. Well then, develop something and let us see. Don’t just say those words and not go through with it.”
For communities along the south coast, MacDonald said one of the big reasons why his town wants to look at the possibility of a marine conservation area is because it would mean jobs and money.
“The fishery went down on us in 1992 and everybody’s got to go back and forth to Alberta, and it’s an opportunity to create some jobs,” he said. “What I’m saying to the government is look, you’ve got to do something. You’ve either got to give us the green light with the marine conservation area, or you’ve got to put some other sort of employment in the community.”
Parsons said as far as he’s concerned, this isn’t a dead issue. Despite the fact the government has shut down the possibility of a marine conservation area doesn’t mean that he’ll stop pushing for one.
He said at the very least, a study is worthwhile.
“I don’t know what they’re afraid of. I don’t know if they’re afraid of opening the door for potential. I don’t know if they want to hamstring the people of this area. But they’ve got to come up with a better reason,” Parsons said. “Doing a feasibility study is not saying that anything is going ahead or not. It’s just doing a study on it. They’re not even letting us study it.”