No longer cottage country

Eviction notices posted on illegal cabins in area of proposed new nickel plant

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on April 4, 2009
Gerard Brothers (right) of Long Harbour reads a removal notice handed to him Wednesday by officers from the lands division of the Department of Environment and Conservation. Brothers owns one of the 13 cabins in the area that were built without a lease or grant from Crown lands. - Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

People who illegally built cabins in the forest near the site of the former phosphorous plant in Long Harbour in the past decade are being expelled by the provincial government.

Officials with the provincial lands division began issuing removal notices this week for the 13 cabins that were built without a proper lease or grant from the Crown, just days before Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador is slated to start building a US$2.2-billion commercial nickel-processing plant on the site.

Long Harbour -

People who illegally built cabins in the forest near the site of the former phosphorous plant in Long Harbour in the past decade are being expelled by the provincial government.

Officials with the provincial lands division began issuing removal notices this week for the 13 cabins that were built without a proper lease or grant from the Crown, just days before Vale Inco Newfoundland and Labrador is slated to start building a US$2.2-billion commercial nickel-processing plant on the site.

Cabin owners had been lobbying for some form of compensation from Vale Inco, or a last-minute compromise with the provincial government, but any hopes of that were dashed Wednesday when formal notices were issued.

People like Clyde and Mary Murphy and Gerard and Patsy Brothers now have 60 days to completely remove their cabins and restore the site to its original condition, or the government will do it and charge them the cost of removal. They also face fines of up to $1,000 or a maximum of three months in jail, and a penalty of $25 for every day the structures remain on the site after the 60-day grace period expires.

The two couples were at their cabins on Wednesday, enjoying a meal of moose stew, when the notices were delivered. They weren't surprised, but couldn't hide their disappointment.

"It took us 10 years to put it here, and now they want us to take it out of here in 60 days," Gerard said.

Both Clyde and Mary are cancer survivors, and spend days on end at their "sanctuary in the woods."

Clyde is an electrician and built the A-frame cabin and oversized deck on the shores of Sam Howe's Pond with his own hands, and now has to take it apart.

"It was a lot of hard work to put it there, and it will be a lot of hard work to take it out of it," he said.

The cabin owners acknowledge their cabins are unlawful, but believed the land was still owned by Albright and Wilson, the former operator of the phosphorous plant, when they built the structures.

There were plenty of downcast faces at Murphy's cabin, but no hard feelings towards the officers who delivered the notices.

"Geez, I should have asked them in for some stew," Clyde quipped.

Environment and Conservation Minister Charlene Johnson was unsympathetic when contacted this week. She said the structures were built illegally on Crown land, and what's more, she said many of the cabins are built too close to a body of water, which is a breach of the 15-metre shoreline reservation.

"Crown land is a natural resource like our trees, our water, our oil. It's no different and there are laws to protect it," she said.

She said the department was responding to a "complaint" about the cabins, and pointed out that if the cabin owners had legal approval to build them, they would be in a better position to bargain for compensation from Vale Inco.

The company is expected to acquire a large tract of Crown land in the coming days. A company spokesman, Bob Carter, said the initial acquisition will not include any land on which there are cabins. But the company hopes to acquire an additional swath of land surrounding Rattling Brook Big Pond, which will serve as an industrial water supply for the nickel plant. Cabins are located in this area, he said.

"We understand that the Crown has initiated a process to determine whether these cabins have been constructed with the appropriate authorization," Carter stated in a statement e-mailed to The Telegram.

Company officials have agreed to meet with the cabin owners, but compensation appears unlikely.

In a recent e-mail exchange between a cabin owner and a senior manager with Vale Inco, the manager stated: "You should understand that we cannot be in a position of compensating people for the removal of such buildings. What I can say is we do understand the issue and can show some flexibility with permitting some access for you in the removal of the cabin or contents for a short time while this is taking place."

The cabin owners say they expected more from such a large company.

"They want to steamroll over everybody that's here and flex their muscles," said Clyde Murphy.

Murphy and Brothers also complained about a lack of support from the Long Harbour town council, saying, "this would not be an issue if someone on council had a cabin in here."

But Mayor Gary Keating said it is beyond the town's control. He said the issue has been discussed with company and provincial officials.

"There's nothing we can do," he said.

Faced with such overwhelming odds, the cabin owners say they have no choice but to start removing their cabins. But they'll miss the solitude, socializing and peacefulness, and say there is nowhere else in the immediate area where they can build a cabin.

"I guess we have to evict," said Clyde Murphy. "But don't think we're bad people. We're good people."

troberts@thetelegram.com