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Utility and review board to decide on Tusket sea cucumber proposal

Lawyers occupy the front tables during a May 14 hearing of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth. From left: Gavin Giles, representing a group of people appealing a decision by the Municipality of Argyle to approve a development agreement for a sea cucumber processing facility in Tusket; Richard W. Norman, representing the Municipality of Argyle; and Jocelin d’Entremont, representing Jules LeBlanc, the project developer.
Lawyers occupy the front tables during a May 14 hearing of the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth. From left: Gavin Giles, representing a group of people appealing a decision by the Municipality of Argyle to approve a development agreement for a sea cucumber processing facility in Tusket; Richard W. Norman, representing the Municipality of Argyle; and Jocelin d’Entremont, representing Jules LeBlanc, the project developer. - Eric Bourque

The fate of a proposal to establish a sea cucumber pharmaceutical processing facility in the Tusket business park in Yarmouth County rests with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, which held a hearing on the matter Tuesday in Yarmouth.

A number of residents who live near the site where the proposed operation would be built appeared before the board expressing concern over its potential environmental impact.

Project developer Jules LeBlanc – president of Ocean Pride Fisheries in Wedgeport and another of the witnesses for the May 14 hearing – has said he is confident the Tusket facility would not be a nuisance.

Roland Deveau, vice-chair of the utility and review board, said once the lawyers had filed their submissions on the matter, he would have 60 days to produce a written decision.

At issue is the Municipality of Argyle’s decision last fall to approve a development agreement for LeBlanc’s proposal.

People living in a residential park next to the Tusket business park wanted the application denied, citing several concerns, particularly the odour the proposed facility might create. Noise and traffic were concerns too.

But on Nov. 20 of last year, at a special meeting of Argyle municipal council, a vote was held and the development agreement was approved, albeit by the slimmest of margins, with five council members supporting the project and four opposing it.

Residents upset with the outcome turned to the utility and review board, which decided a hearing would be held this spring. Initially scheduled for April 24, the session was pushed back to May 14.

At the hearing, several residents living near the site of the proposed sea cucumber facility in Tusket reiterated concerns that were expressed last fall, some saying they wouldn’t have purchased their house lots years ago had they known there was a possibility this type of facility could be established so close to them.

Jessica Gaudet, one of the residents who appeared before the board, said they are not against business – another point raised by residents last year – but she said there should be a better place than the Tusket business park for the proposed operation.

“It’s just not the right location,” she said.

 Donna LeBlanc-Messenger, one of the owners of property in the Tusket residential park and another of those who appeared before the board, referred to the Argyle council meeting last November where the development agreement was approved, saying it was “cold comfort” to hear some councillors expressing uncertainty about the proposed facility.

Proponents of the project have said much effort went into mitigating potential issues and that the development agreement is solid. An odour problem could result in the operation being shut down.

It was noted during Tuesday’s utility and review board hearing that, in response to concerns raised by residents, the agreement was revised in advance of last November’s council vote, although Gavin Giles, the lawyer representing the residents who launched the appeal, said the way some things are worded, the agreement still was not as strong as it should have been, while some of the wording in the document is too vague.

When the sea cucumber project was in the news last year, Jules LeBlanc said he chose to locate his new facility in Tusket for several reasons, including the availability of water and sewer services, its proximity to a major highway and the various amenities in the Tusket area. He also said he wanted it to be fairly close to home.

After Tuesday’s hearing, when a reporter asked him about comments from people who think there should be a better place for his development, LeBlanc said, “I haven’t identified a better location in the Municipality of Argyle.”

The utility and review board was able to wrap up its hearing Tuesday afternoon. There was to have been an evening session, but it was called off when the one person who had signed up to address the board at that time instead came for the afternoon portion of the hearing.

About the project:

The following is from an assessment of the sea cucumber pharmaceutical processing facility that was prepared last year for Argyle municipal council.

--The project involves the construction of a refrigeration and cooking facility for the byproduct of the Ocean Pride sea cucumber plant in Wedgeport.

--The first phase of construction will have office space, an enclosed area for cooking the product and a refrigeration space. In a second phase, there would be freezer space and a dryer added on location.

--Refrigerated space will be used to store raw material until it is processed. It is expected an additional separate freezer storage building for storage of incoming raw materials on the site may be needed as the business develops.

--It is 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.

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