A decision by the municipality’s Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) in July to recommend to council that regulations be amended to allow aquaculture operations in rural industrial zones (with environmental concerns addressed) was questioned by many residents.
The change would be one of several legislative adjustments necessary for the establishment of an eel production facility on Blueberry Hill in Chebogue by Jason Lee of Red Ocean Inc.
Residents expressed anger at the possible pollution of the scenic and historically-rich Chebogue River.
The proposed site is in a rural development zone so a rezoning application would also have to be submitted. That process would also require public hearings.
Inland aquaculture is presently only allowed in a marine industrial zone.
“How can you make a recommendation to council to approve something that you don’t even understand yourself,” asked Torey Grimshaw.
“That committee should go back to the table, understand what’s going on and then make informed judgment,” she said to applause.
Councillor Leland Anthony turned the lack of information back on the audience when asked for his opinion on the matter.
“You guys want to kill it before you even have the information,” he said.
A public participation meeting on the issue was held on Oct. 16. Grimshaw pointed out the innocuous nature of the advertisement announcing the meeting.
“It says nothing about the actual industry. If you were to read this you’d think, what the hell are they talking about?”
People questioned the net benefit of the
proposed development, with some speakers saying it would be highly mechanized. There was scorn expressed regarding district planner Brad Fulton’s description of the province’s aquaculture industry creating an estimated 750 direct and 1,000 indirect jobs annually.
Dianne Crowell owned and operated an eel processing plant in Argyle for close to 20 years.
She said there was no research based on Fulton’s recommendation.
Her business is for sale and is located on the Argyle River because it needs brackish water for its processing plant.
“You could probably get it for taxes at this point,” she said to laughter.
“He hasn’t gone into any research about what inland aquaculture means, where the waste goes for that.
“I’m going to be very frank with you, this is a way to get a licence to process elvers,” she said.
Elvers are baby eels born in the Sargasso Sea. It takes them a year and a half of swimming to arrive in this region. They are sometimes called glass eels because of their transparency.
Crowell said they command huge prices in today’s market.
“There are about 2,000 elvers in a kilo and presently they are getting thousands of dollars for a kilo. In Korea they are grown through aquaculture. In some countries they are the most expensive appetizer you’ll ever entertain, way more expensive than caviar,” she said.
Council will debate the PAC motion on Nov. 28 and will either pass, change or reject it. The item may also be returned to the PAC with a request for a different proposal related to the issue.
Should council approve the motion by the PAC, a public hearing must be held, with two weeks notice given of the upcoming meeting.
The change allowing aquaculture operations in an RI zone would affect all of the RI zones in the municipality.
If residents do not agree with the decision, they can apply to the Utility and Review Board of Nova Scotia to challenge it.
A new development would also be subject to developmental agreements.
Despite these hurdles, many residents expressed concern that the PAC was advancing the progress of the proposal with little information about the proposed business.