A proposal to build a sea cucumber processing facility in Tusket that would sell to the pharmaceutical market has local residents concerned about potential environmental issues, but the developer says he is confident it would not be a nuisance, based on his experience with existing facilities in other locations.
The developer is Jules LeBlanc, president of Ocean Pride Fisheries in Wedgeport, who is looking to build a new facility in the Tusket business park.
(The business park is near a residential park that was created about a decade ago.)
A development agreement for the proposed project has been drafted but has not been approved by Argyle municipal council. Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20, to discuss the project.
Jeff LeBlanc, one of those who live in the park where the facility would be built, says he is concerned about potential river pollution and a foul smell. He is skeptical about assurances that the project won't create problems and says it seems the municipality is trying to rush the project through.
A report prepared for council by Argyle CAO Alain Muise describes the project as being “intended to utilize the current waste materials from the Ocean Pride sea cucumber facility in Wedgeport with the goal of utilizing all of the Ocean Pride products which are harvested from the sea and also have the potential for utilizing raw material products from the sea from other processors to produce nutraceutical/dietary supplements and related products.”
Municipal representatives recently visited the Ocean Pride plant in Wedgeport, although in his report to council, CAO Muise said, “Keep in mind that the Ocean Pride Fisheries (operation) includes the initial processing of sea cucumber (filleting, cutting etc.) which can be smelly. This process will not occur in Tusket.”
Muise wrote that a smell was noticeable at the facility, but it quickly disappeared as they moved away from the building.
More recently, Muise and Argyle Deputy Warden Danny Muise got to visit a facility in Truro that is almost identical to the one proposed for Tusket, although the Tusket operation would be larger.
“Both locations (Wedgeport and Truro) had a smell coming from the exhaust, and could be smelled up to 40 feet away from the building, but we did not observe a foul smell beyond that distance,” the CAO wrote.
But in an interview, Jeff LeBlanc said it's one thing to visit such a facility in November. "It would probably be a whole different ballgame if they went there when they're processing in July or August," he said.
There are seven family homes in the Tusket business park, LeBlanc said, and those who live there share his concerns about the project.
"We were never notified of this happening," he said. "By word of mouth, I found out."
He's not against businesses setting up in the Tusket park, he said, but he says the facility that's being proposed doesn't belong there.
In reference to their visit to the Wedgeport facility, Alain Muise cited a humming noise from compressors, but he said the equipment that would be used in Tusket is of a different design and is designed to be quieter, according to the local installer. Noise wasn't found to be much of an issue in Truro.
A brewery in the Tusket business park has expressed concern about how the project might affect them, but other business or government/institutional tenants have not.
Referring to a recent public session where the project was discussed, CAO Muise said, “residents wanted the municipality to make the language stronger in the development agreement to make sure the developer would be held accountable. The developer agreed to these changes.”
The Tusket site was chosen for the project for a number of reasons, including water and sewer services and its proximity to a main highway (Highway 103 in this case). The project would create eight to 10 jobs initially, with another eight to 10 in phase two, and positions would include mechanical and lab technicians, engineers and support staff, according to Muise’s report.
In talking to councillors about the project, Jeff LeBlanc said he and others living in the park were told council would take its time before deciding whether to approve it or not, but now, he said, "it seems like they're just trying to push it through."
CAO Muise said he couldn't say for sure if councillors will vote on the project at their Nov. 20 meeting. The session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.
In his report to council on the project, which was part of the agenda package for the municipality's regular council meeting of Nov. 13, the CAO wrote, “Based on the protections embedded in the development agreement, the observation of other locations and the commitment from the developer to mitigate or eliminate major nuisances, staff sees no reason to withhold approval of the development agreement, unless council has ongoing questions, or if there are resident concerns that have not been addressed in the agreement. It is our collective responsibility to find a balance between business development and peaceful residential living.”