Marystown Mayor Sam Synard says he frustrated the provincial government has still not approved sale and lease agreements the town has in place for the former Marystown Shipyard.
The length of time it’s taking to receive government’s consent has already resulted in the loss of one project, he claims.
In December, a $34-million contract to build concrete barges that was targeted to come to Marystown went to a company in Nova Scotia instead, he said.
It would have been a great way to kick start the reactivation of the facility, Synard suggested. He said the company had timelines to meet and ran out of patience, however.
“We pretty well had the contract in our back pocket,” the mayor said.
Synard said three face-to-face meetings have been held with government officials in recent days, including one with Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
“It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’re at a stalemate,” Synard told The Southern Gazette on Thursday, Feb. 7.
Back in mid-December, the mayor told the newspaper he expected everything to be officially finalized before Christmas.
Deals in place
The Town of Marystown reached a deal late last year to buy the shipyard footprint portion of Peter Kietwit Sons’ operations in the town, as well as an agreement to lease the facility to Marbase, a partnership between Newfoundland businessman Paul Antle and Amar Group AS, a Norwegian company, for a 20-year period.
Marbase, which has also negotiated a collective agreement with MWF-Unifor Local 20 for workers at the site, plans to turn the facility into a hub for aquaculture-related projects.
Synard, however, claims government wants changes to the lease agreement with Marbase before giving its approval. Marbase has “quite emphatically” said they won’t be making any more alterations, he said.
“So we’re sort of at a Mexican standoff,” Synard said.
One point of contention seems to be that the length of the lease is too long, Synard said.
“Everything seems to be going around in circles. Every time you meet there seems to be more new questions and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight,” Synard said.
“There doesn’t seem to be any urgency at all on the provincial government’s part to get this shipyard back in operation.”
Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto told The Southern Gazette the department is just doing its due diligence on a complex file.
“It’s taking longer than we anticipated, no question about that, but it’s a pretty complicated process and it’s a very important issue,” Letto said.
“I don’t want to approve anything that’s going to put the taxpayers of Marystown and the province at risk, and the town itself.”
Letto said the department has placed significant resources on the sale and lease agreements in recent months.
“We’ve been working on this since November, really, back and forth with the town, regarding the lease and the environmental indemnity, and we’ve made some great progress, but we’re not there yet,” Letto said.
The minister acknowledged the plan for the facility has great potential as a job creator for the region.
“If (the mayor) feels we’re not giving it any urgency, I tell you right now, there’s no other file that’s getting more attention than this one,” Letto said.
The department is doing its best to finalize the deal, Letto said, adding the delay isn’t all one-sided.
“I mean, we’re still waiting on information to come back from the town, too, so it hasn’t been all us,” he said.
“I mean, we’ve asked for information on several occasions. We get it and when we do, we have to analyse it. So it’s part of the process and we will continue to put a priority on this as we have for the past two and a half months.”
Not walking away
Synard said conversations with the provincial government about the town acquiring and leasing the shipyard first started last May.
“We’re not any closer now than we were nine months ago,” he said.
“We don’t need to be arguing over should it be a 10-year lease or a 20-year lease. What’s that got to do with it?”
Synard remains hopeful things can get back on track.
“We’re certainly not walking away from it,” he said. “We’re prepared to keep at this forever, really, but there comes a point in time when things have got to move. You can’t be having the same conversation for 10 months going nowhere.”