The battle continues for two municipalities and the provincial government who have squared off with a private owner over a couple of decaying fish plants along the southwest coast.
An appeal of ministerial orders issued in October 2018 to remove fuel tanks from the former fish plants at Isle aux Morts and Rose Blanche-Harbour Le Cou has failed.
Owner Greg Sheaves stated last fall that he would appeal the orders he had been issued after representatives from Service NL inspected both sites. On Jan. 3, Sheaves was notified via registered letter that the appeal had been dismissed and he was granted until Feb. 22 to comply with the orders.
“Service NL can confirm that remediation has not taken place to date,” confirmed Director of Communications Melony O’Neill via email.
O’Neill declined to elaborate further, noting the matter is currently under active investigation.
For Isle aux Morts Mayor Nelson Lillington, this latest development is yet another delay in what has proved a frustrating, prolonged fight for his town.
“As you can see we are still fighting what I believe is a battle that we can't win. The town doesn't have enough money or power to apply pressure to Greg Sheaves and we are not getting enough support or pressure from the provincial government. This has been an ongoing issue with numerous IAM (Isle aux Morts) Town Councils and we are really no further ahead than we were in 2004 when the provincial government was asked by that council for advice on how to get Greg Sheaves to clean up his property,” wrote Lillington via email.
Burgeo – LaPoile MHA Andrew Parsons, who served temporarily as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment, has been active in the ongoing efforts to have the fish plants cleaned up.
Parsons is sympathetic to Lillington’s frustration and conceded that the process is lengthy but proper legal procedure must be followed.
“That’s just the nature of it. If you don’t follow what the rules are then you can get yourself into a situation,” he said.
Because the ministerial orders have not yet been complied with, Parsons speculated Service NL will take stronger action moving forward. As he has stated in the past, Parsons once again noted this region has become somewhat of a test case for similar situations around the province.
“I think that given where we are in this province – there are multiple dilapidated fish plant-type buildings all over this province – I think that maybe we need to look at how we handle these matters because right now the way that it’s set up, it’s not always helpful to municipalities. You know it’s fine and dandy to say a municipality has the power to do something, but quite frankly, if the town were to go and demolish a plant themselves, town’s just don’t have the funding for that, and to say that you can go after the owner, well, depending on the ownership situation of a derelict plant, you’ll never get any cost recovery.”
Parsons is adamant that neither the province nor the municipalities should bear the costs involved with cleaning up crumbling fish plants.
“It should be polluter pay.”
In her email, O’Neill confirmed this is current Service NL policy.
“In Newfoundland and Labrador, the principle of ‘polluter pays’ is followed, whereby the polluter or person responsible for a spill, leak or other matter of environmental concern is liable for initiating response measures and for remediation of any impacted areas,” wrote O’Neill. “When an environmental occurrence is reported, environmental protection officers (EPOs) with Service NL complete an investigation and ensure the polluter is made aware of their obligations with respect to initiating response measures.”
Parsons says he’s been in touch with both Lillington and Service NL and is keeping up to date with developments as they continue to unfold.
“I’m saying, ‘Look we’ve got to find a better way to deal with this. This is not fair to communities.’ But you know when you come right down to it, the onus lies on – these are property owners – you have a duty to keep your property in a good state of repair.”
Parsons noted both fish plants are somewhat unique in their locations, which not only makes them obviously unattractive but exacerbates the safety hazards they present.
“Isle aux Morts’ is right there in town and now, thankfully, there’s been some work done on that one,” observed Parsons. “Rose Blanche’s is not in the centre of town but it’s right there next to the ferry (to La Poile) and it looks precarious. It looks dangerous. So it’s tough.”
When contacted, Greg Sheaves declined to offer comment about the two fish plants.