There is a way forward for Grieg
Since the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court ruled the Placentia Bay aquaculture project must complete an environmental impact statement, government and industry representatives have repeated that they’re determined to forge ahead with the development, as though the judge somehow cancelled it.
Members of cabinet have been careful to say they respect the court’s decision, and have expressed willingness to work with all sides, but then the other shoe drops.
Premier Dwight Ball told NTV his government was waiting for advice from Justice Department lawyers and, “Once we explore all those options a decision will be made on how we continue to advance this project.” Last week Environment Minister Eddie Joyce told VOCM’S “Open Line” show, “we have to find a way to make this work.”
Grieg Seafood chairman Per Grieg told the Southern Gazette recently he “cannot believe… this ruling that temporarily has stopped a little bit of the progress in the project will stand.”
No one has plainly said they will follow the judge’s order and complete an environmental impact statement.
There appears to be no recognition that Judge Gillian Butler’s ruling is a sensible, reasonable compromise. It provides a path to approval for the company, the ability to meet economic and job targets for the government, and ensures wild salmon, other native species and the environment get due consideration.
Resistance to the process raises questions about the open net-pen salmon aquaculture industry. Can it pass environmental assessment? Is that why salmon aquaculture has been exempt from the rules that apply to other developments in Newfoundland?
The fact is environmental assessment is a step that usually leads to approval. Going back to 2006 in Newfoundland and Labrador, 14 projects have been required to prepare an environmental impact statement. One was withdrawn, six have been approved, and seven assessments are in progress, including three soft-shell clam aquaculture projects, a golf course, and an access road.
Having the Placentia Bay project go through an environmental assessment will give the public a window on what’s planned. It will force the company to prove their claims like “escape proof” nets and 100 per cent sterile fish. It will lead to monitoring and mitigation programs where there is a risk. A better project will come out the other side.
Environmental assessment of the Placentia Bay salmon aquaculture project will also give the public some assurance the venture will not fail or cause unacceptable environmental damage.
Consider it due diligence, especially as Newfoundlanders are being asked by the company to contribute $45 million in taxpayers’ dollars to the development. As Judge Butler notes in her decision, quoting the Newfoundland Court of Appeal, environmental assessment is “an integral part of economic development.”
Grieg says they’ve already completed an environmental assessment. In fact, the review which led to approval was based primarily on a description provided by the company, which the government scientist handling the file said, “did not provide sufficient information to assist in predicting effects prior to a minister’s decision.”
The Atlantic Salmon Federation recognizes that the salmon aquaculture industry is established in Newfoundland and provides jobs in rural areas. Putting the Placentia Bay project through the normal development process could set a new standard for salmon aquaculture in Canada, making the province a leader in addressing the problems of open net-pens.
A government appeal, or attempt to change the legislation, will cause more delays and cost the public more. If cabinet’s goal is to see this project proceed, they should begin the environmental assessment process.