Not enough people have shown an interest in leaving Little Bay Islands to prompt a formal relocation vote, the minister of municipal affairs says.
“The policy of this department is that we won’t entertain it unless
we have 90 per cent of the permanent residents (in favour of) the proposal,” Kevin O’Brien told The Telegram.
This past summer, Municipal Affairs received 52 petitions from residents supporting relocation of the Notre Dame Bay community, which has a population between 80 and 90 and is serviced by a provincial ferry that makes three to five runs a day.
But, in September, a petition opposed resettling residents was sent to the department by the Coalition to Save Little Bay Islands. It was signed by 35 permanent residents and 38 seasonal residents. (It’s worth noting the latter don’t have a say in relocation.)
Late last month, O’Brien wrote Dennis Budgell, who spearheaded the petition in favour of relocation. The minister informed the Little Bay Islands councillor a vote wasn’t the cards right now because 90 per cent weren’t showing an interest.
O’Brien said in an interview he’d actually prefer if the numbers were closer to 100 per cent.
“We just don’t want to upset people who’ve lived in communities for their entire lives.”
Budgell says he is undeterred by the minister’s response.
“Keep on rallying around. Try to get people going,” he replied when he was asked what he was going to do next.
There’s been little economic activity or employment in Little Bay Islands since the crab plant closed in fall of 2009.
“Most of the people on the island would like to get out of here now, because there’s nothing for them anyway,” Budgell said.
He added the population is aging and many need to be closer to health care facilities. The nearest is the Green Bay Medical Clinic in Springdale, a 45-minute ferry ride and 20-minute drive away.
Budgell also noted supporting the community — including the ferry and a school with only two students – costs the province millions and millions each year.
O’Brien admitted his department is cognizant of the expense, but services will continue as long as people want to live there.
“We will not force relocation just because it’s a benefit to government in a budgetary manner,” he said.
Besides proof that 90-plus per cent of the people want to leave, the minister noted the town’s council will need to take a position on the issue.
That hasn’t yet happened.
Messages left for Mayor Perry Locke were not returned by the reporter’s Friday deadline.
Budgell acknowledged relocation is not a popular topic with council or with some in the community.
Because it can be such a sensitive issue, O’Brien said his fear is it will split the people, something he doesn’t want to happen.
“Respect each other’s (opinion) is all I’ll say to them,” he said.
Budgell noted he was disappointed in how O’Brien responded. He feels the minister should have written a letter to everyone who filled out his petitions.
Asked about that, the minister explained that, if someone writes him, he’s obligated to respond, but if he receives a petition, he replies to whoever is leading the effort.
One resident of Little Bay Islands told The Telegram there is some concern in the town about how much money families would get if they voted to relocate.
O’Brien said each case would be looked at separately, with numerous factors considered.
“In the process of evaluating, we’d consider the cost to government to provide the services to the community over a 20-year period and then that would help determine the value or the payment that would go to each resident,” he explained.
“For me to put a figure on it now (in the absence of a formal relocation process) would be a disservice to the community.”