Sunday, 22 September 2013

NO GOOSE FOR GOOSE BAY

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in return for five years of disruption, ought to be given a legacy greater than the estimated 100 maintenance jobs attributable to the operation of a commissioned Muskrat Falls. 

If any synergies can be found, from even an unwise megaproject, most people would expect them to enhance Goose Bay’s future growth and development prospects.

As I write, Nalcor is spending several million dollars building a staging area, together with storage and assembly facilities on the Muskrat Falls site.  It will include a fenced compound, one or more very large warehouses whose structures and foundations will be designed for heavy loads; the height of the buildings and access to them will meet demanding requirements. 

Likely the facility will boast a heavy lift crane (and several of smaller tonnage), a large capacity electrical system, industrial grade mechanical ventilation and heating systems, adequate offices and a communications system – facilities that would rival some found at the Bull Arm Site.  Water and sewer services and related civil infrastructure will also be supplied.
Where is this facility being constructed, again, and for how long will it be needed?  The distance is thirty kilometers outside Happy Valley-Goose Bay where it will be largely abandoned within just five years!   

When the dust settles on Muskrat Falls many citizens, including aboriginal groups, will wonder why they permitted prescient Nalcor experts and uninspired government planners behave so niggardly.

When I visited Goose Bay recently, the Town’s port facilities were much as they were fifty years ago.   The plywood shacks, which the Americans built, seemed to demand evidence that someone, other than outside vested interests, really cared.

I made the usual enquiries only to receive derisive laughter at how the turbines and generators, for Muskrat Falls, will be delivered to the construction site not via the port of Goose Bay but through the community of Cartwright. Evidently, the Provincial Government planners who built bridgeworks across the Churchill River and outside Happy Valley failed to anticipate that any large scale project, including a hydro project, might ever get built.

Notwithstanding previous failures of planning, when the Government determined that Muskrat would proceed regardless of the cost, the Premier might have been expected to form a Ministerial Group (during my years on 'the Hill', it was called the Planning and Priorities Committee; the acronym  P&P was widely used and let you know who were the senior Ministers). Its purpose, right now, would be to evaluate the flow of information and analysis associated with such a costly and risky venture and also to assess how the greatest economic benefits, including for adjacent communities, could be achieved. 

As I waited and strolled along the row of float planes parked at the dock, I thought, surely someone had considered Goose Bay’s potential, how it could benefit from Labrador’s mineral wealth, how it might play a role in the provision of services to such operations, in as many ways as possible.  Wasn't it time to stop defaulting to a Quebec port? 

What about the concept of Goose Bay as a Northern gateway?  Was that just more claptrap, too?     

In 2005 the Government of Danny Williams produced "The Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador".   It had a promising title, “The future of our land.  A future for our children.”   Unfortunately, it was not a Plan; avoiding commitments, it was far more descriptive than prescriptive.  It was a better photo op; the Plan contained pictures of Premier Williams and then local MHA and Labrador Affairs Minister John Hickey, the latter now thinking himself suitable to be the Towns’ Mayor.    

The Dunderdale Government has spoken of the potential for an eastern Arctic trade corridor from Goose Bay to Nunavut and Greenland. In 2007 SGE ACRES Limited, a Consultancy, undertook a study for the Labrador North and Baffin Chambers of Commerce, to expose this potential. It needed to have been followed up.

In the Moores/Peckford years, industrialists in the business of aluminum smelting, performed a plethora of studies, all of whom shied away after doubts were confirmed about the prospect of year round shipping.  But, global warming has caused a paradigm shift to the winter isolation of  northern towns like Goose Bay; the future is already here.  Baffinland, for example, is host to a multi-billion dollar iron ore project with a long life ore body; Iqaluit, too, will get busier as the north continues to attract investment.   

A Report prepared by the Central Labrador Economic Development Board, in 2011, entitled "THE MARINE PORT OF GOOSE BAY AT TERRINGTON BASIN" chronicled years of confusion over the management and perennial neglect of the Port. It is brief and well worth reading;.  In incredibly straightforward language the Report constitutes a desperate cry for the most elementary attention to dilapidated infrastructure.  That it could not catch the Provincial Government’s attention is testimony to the fact that Labradorians, at least in that neck of the woods, possess far too much patience.


In what might have seemed a sensible move, the current Mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Leo Abbass was appointed to the Nalcor Board of Directors, in 2012. Presumably he was expected, not so much to advise Nalcor on the Government’s energy strategy, but to provide a connection to his community, one that finds itself in a maelstrom of boom, which since the Americans left, has suffered mainly bust. 


The Mayor might have been expected to council Nalcor, both as a Mayor and as a Director, as to his Town’s economic ambitions and propose ways of lessening the worse impacts of a project, like Muskrat Falls.

Even the local cheerleaders for Muskrat, ought to have had more ideas for tying the Project to a larger economic strategy. Perhaps, they found it impossible to see the future when the present offered so much immediate opportunity.  

If the current Mayor had any ideas to share with Nalcor, or if John Hickey the candidate now campaigning for Abbass’ position, ever possessed high expectations for his Town’s future prospects, each kept them to himself.
In a few months’ time, a 1000 or more containers will show up in the Port of Goose Bay, from Turkey.  The material will be loaded onto trucks, destined for the staging area described earlier, at the Muskrat site, for assembly of hundreds of transmission towers.     
Over the next few years other vessels will off-load all manner of cargo; all these containers will drive through Happy Valley-Goose Bay as if the Town had nothing to offer, except proximity.
Think of what might have happened, if the experts at Nalcor were actually ‘expert’ or that the Government planners had actually ‘planned’. 
The Government might even have come up with some money, along with the Feds, to add world class docking facilities and other amenities designed for a northern environment.  It might have encouraged local and outside service providers and investors to ‘come on board’.
The vision might have even produced something tangible to a mining outfit, sifting iron nodules from the glacial sands, to companies with plans to bring services to Baffinland, or to others in the oil exploration business.     

Nalcor and the Government could have overpaid some PR outfit to come up with a corny slogan like “Let’s Goose Goose Bay”, one that would organize a celebration announcing that the chief part of Muskrat’s new staging area and facilities, will be constructed at the Port of Goose Bay. It could have been the beginning of a “marine focussed” Industrial Park, one that would have placed Goose Bay at the center of the "new" north. 

All the folks from the Chambers of Commerce would have attended; they might have thought their work finally beginning to pay off. Aboriginal groups might have begun thinking about business "partnerships" with their far northern neighbours, too. 
What a ribbon cutting ceremony it could have been!
 

1 comment:

  1. Cartwright to Muskrat? You must be wrong Des. How will all these heavy lifts go from Cartright to Muskrat Falls?. There has to be some significant upgrades in the infrastructure to take all this equipment?

    This deserves more attention. How can cartright take heavy lifts, and what road will be used to get it to the South side of Muskrat Falls?

    The locals were perhaps correct to laugh.

    Nalcor should be asked to provide further information on this.

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