Irving Oil Ltd.'s $200-million maintenance project at its Saint John oil refinery has trades workers in the region excited.

The project, announced by the company on Thursday, marks one of the largest private-sector investments in Canada this year and the biggest maintenance plan in its history.

An additional 2,900 temporary workers will be hired at the peak of the project, called Operation Falcon, which will start on Sept. 16 and last 60 days.

Sarah and Arthur Irving

Sarah and Arthur Irving spoke to Irving Oil employees before a news conference on Thursday. Irving Oil announced a $200-million maintenance project at its Saint John refinery. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

"This is more than an investment in the refinery — it is an investment in our people and our region, and it signals Irving Oil's long-term commitment to the economic future of Saint John, New Brunswick and the rest of Atlantic Canada," Irving Oil president Ian Whitcomb said in a statement.

The unemployment rate in Saint John is currently about nine per cent.

Gary Ritchie, president of the New Brunswick Building Trades Council, says between 8,000 and 10,000 of his members are currently sitting at home.

"We're going to put everybody in the province of New Brunswick to work that wants to work," he said.

The oil company expects the majority of the workers will come from Atlantic Canada.

'A lot of people are itching just to get in there.' - Jody Waring, plumbers and pipefitters union

"A lot of people are itching just to get in there," said Jody Waring, business manager for Local 213 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada.

He says building trades members will be on site around the clock, working 10-hour shifts that are 13 days on, one day off.

Waring's plumbing and pipefitter members earn $40 an hour at regular time, but he could not say how much they'll take home once overtime is added in.

"I'd have to get a calculator and figure that out. But it would be significant."

Irving Oil estimates Operation Falcon will also create $27 million in direct spinoffs for Saint John.

The maintenance project has been in the planning stages for two years, according to the company.

The refinery will operate at half its regular capacity during the turnaround project, which will involve work on the hydrocracker, mechanical units, flares and piping.

Environmental advocate calls for assessment

Gordon Dalzell, a Saint John air quality advocate, contends a project of this scale should be open to public scrutiny. He wants to know why it is not undergoing a provincial environmental impact assessment.

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Irving Oil Ltd. says the major maintenance project at its Saint John refinery is called Operation Falcon, and is expected to add about 2,900 workers at its peak. (CBC)

Dalzell said he was assured earlier this year that the project would be subject to an EIA..

"It's a big mystery," said Dalzell,

"The public really need to have been informed and the Department of Environment should have insisted on an EIA registration document. Describe the project and give the public an opportunity to respond to it, make comments."

Mark Sherman, the refinery's chief operating officer, says the work will not change production levels, or increase emissions from the refinery.

And while the refinery will eventually have to upgrade some units to adhere to new American vehicle emission and fuel standard rules, that work will not be part of this year's turnaround, said Sherman.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the new, Tier 3 standards will lower sulphur content in gasoline, beginning in 2017. The majority of its product is exported to the United States.