Following a lengthy back-and-forth exchange between the mayor and a councillor, Holyrood town council gave its approval to a mineral access road near Big Triangle Pond that’s been in the works for over five years.
The vote was a close one, with council members voting 4-3 in favour of the motion to approve the permit for the road, which would allow Eagleridge International Ltd. to continue mineral exploration work in the area. The access road has been the subject of considerable scrutiny over the years, inspiring petitions and protests over concerns about the project’s potential to negatively impact salmon and a watershed area.
Earlier this fall, the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled the provincial government was in the wrong to try and restart the environmental assessment process. The provincial government subsequently indicated it would not appeal the court ruling in favour of Eagleridge.
Prior to the vote at the Tuesday, Dec. 4 council meeting, there was a lengthy discussion about how the approval process was handled, with Coun. Jim Joy and Mayor Gary Goobie engaged in most of the talking.
The access road permit application was unanimously rejected at a Feb. 17, 2015 council meeting. After a decision of the Eastern Regional Appeal Board vacated that decision, another vote on the permit was held Nov. 4, 2015. This time it was granted approval in principle by a vote of 5-2.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Joy questioned how the approval was handled. Town CAO Gary Corbett granted initial approval and corrected a claim made by Joy suggesting approval in principle from 2015 was granted without conditions. Corbett said standard conditions were applied, such as meeting the requirements of provincial government departments. The CAO later noted some additional conditions suggested by councillors were presented to the town’s legal team and found to have “no teeth to them.”
“All the conditions that were included in that approval in principle were all the legal conditions that the town had the authority to put in, period,” Corbett said.
Joy asked why the final approval wasn’t made the subject of a public meeting. Mayor Goobie noted the CAO has the discretion to grant approvals for permit applications prior to a vote by council.
“Permits are issued here all the time,” he said. “Once the CAO deems that any applicant has met the terms and conditions set forth in the approval in principle, the CAO has the authority to issue the permit, and then it eventually comes to the council table and re-ratifies the permit. What we’re doing here tonight is no different than the past practice we’ve been using for the past several years.”
Goobie acknowledged work on the road had started about a day before it was brought to his attention and the CAOs. He said the proponent was under the impression it could start the work under the approval in principle and did not realize further approval was needed. According to Goobie, the proponent was apologetic upon realizing the mistake made. A permit was issued the following day.
“There was no other information that was shed on council after the (court decision), and I’m not going to get into this — we’ve already discussed this with our legal team and whatnot,” the mayor said Tuesday. “There was no new information that would change anything, and on that basis, in accordance with the terms and conditions set out, particularly with the environmental preview report and our development regulations, which were already outlined in the approval in principle, there was no reason to prolong issuing that permit any longer.”
Joy who previously voted against the proposal twice in 2015 when he was the town’s deputy mayor, did so again on Tuesday, saying he remained opposed to the project. Coun. Sadie King (who also rejected the permit application twice in 2015) and Coun. Kevin Costello were the other two members to reject the application Tuesday.