Marystown booming again as work on Hebron project escalates

Paul Herridge
Published on July 8, 2014
Work on the Hebron project is in full swing at Peter Kiewit Offshore in Marystown. 
Paul Herridge Photo

It was 10 years ago this summer that the SeaRose floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel arrived in Marystown from South Korea.

Construction of the ship’s topsides facilities were scheduled to be completed at Kiewit Offshore Services.

A little over a year later, the vessel left Mortier Bay, bound for Husky Energy’s White Rose oil field on the Grand Banks.

Since then, smaller projects here and there have generated significant employment locally, including the construction of two ferries for the provincial government, but there has been nothing of the same magnitude.

Until now.

A decade later, Marystown finds itself in the midst of another high in the boom or bust cycle that has been a regular occurrence practically since the “shipyard,” as Kiewit’s facilities in the community are still often referred to as, was established by Joey Smallwood’s Liberals in the late 1960s.

Work is now well underway, at both the company’s Marystown and Cow Head sites, on the drilling support module for the gravity-based structure (GBS) that will be stationed at ExxonMobil Canada’s Hebron offshore oil field.

According to John Farrell, president of MWF/CAW Local 20, representing many of the tradespeople working on the project in Marystown, there are approximately 1,250 employees involved on the project.

Roughly 900 of those are skilled workers, while 350 are staff, he said. Farrell estimated over a third, roughly 350 of the 900 tradespeople, are “travellers” – workers who have come in from outside the area.

Farrell acknowledged two classes of metal fabrication students have been recruited from College of the North Atlantic to work on the project.

Meanwhile, more workers are on the way, with Kiewit currently looking to hire electricians and pipefitters.

It could be argued Marystown was ill-prepared for the social impacts of the White Rose project.

Stories of skyrocketing rents and people who had moved into their cabins or other accommodations while leasing out their own homes for a quick cash windfall were common.

Afterwards, the council of the day had a study completed to look at how the town had fared.

One of the recommendations is evident today, as construction of a modern recreation complex featuring a year-round swimming pool has begun.  

Marystown Mayor Sam Synard acknowledged the effects of the current project are readily apparent.

“Generally speaking, business is doing well. I think all the retail sectors are doing well. The restaurants appear to be doing well. There’s no doubt that the economy is improving,” he said.

“You can just drive around town and see the hustle and bustle of the activity level.”

Synard believes the learning curve wasn’t as steep this time and the community was more prepared.

“I haven’t heard a lot of negative stuff out there, to be quite honest with you about it all,” he said. “So far, I think things are going really well.”

The mayor acknowledged numerous new homes and apartments have been constructed in the last decade and estimated several dozen seniors units have also been created in the Marystown-Burin area.

“By default, that freed up 50 or 60 traditional homes for people,” he said.

“I don’t hear the same amount of concern this time around about housing as I did during the White Rose days. Not saying it’s not a problem – it still continues to be a problem – but I don’t hear as much about it, to be quite frank.”

While some accommodations may be available for those with high incomes, Joan Brown, housing support worker with Burin Peninsula Housing Supports in Marystown, said the current boom is undoubtedly causing issues surrounding affordable housing throughout the region.

“There’s very little housing to rent here, and what is available to rent is, of course, way out of reach of the price range for anybody on low income or medium income for that matter.”

Brown said all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Housing Corporation’s units around the peninsula are full and there is a waiting list.

Brown estimated she presently has between 10 and 15 people with complex needs looking for affordable housing on her own waiting list.

A few landlords are looking long term, she said, taking into consideration the possibility that perhaps the bubble will one day burst and prices could switch around in the renter’s favour.

Brown said rental costs have remained high since the White Rose boom in Marystown.

“It went up then, and it didn’t really come down that much, because, of course, the Alberta money is here, as well,” she said, referring to the large number of Burin Peninsula tradespeople working out west on shift rotations and maintaining a home in the area.

Brown, who said she’s receiving calls “all the time” from people around the region looking for assistance, noted rising costs for food and other necessities are also a factor.

“I don’t know how anybody on low income is even remotely making it,” she said.