Groupe Océan making things work at government-owned shipyard
Province still hopes to find buyer for naval centre
The Quebec company using the ill-fated government-owned shipyard in Bas-Caraquet says things are now going well at the facility, and that's reducing the cost of a taxpayer bailout.
Phillipe Filion of Groupe Océan, a Quebec ship company, says more than 50 people are working on the company's floating drydock at the New Brunswick Naval Centre. He says he expects the company will reach the target of 77 employees.
The drydock, which he said is 45 per cent finished, is a piece of infrastructure that had been at the heart of the facility's problems.
More important, the company has been making monthly lease payments to the province, which took over the New Brunswick Naval Centre in April 2016.
At the time of the takeover, the province estimated it would cost taxpayers $38 million.
But last November the government renegotiated the centre's eight-year contract with Groupe Océan, doubling what the company would pay.
Officials estimated that would bring in $13 million, which would reduce the cost to taxpayers.
"What I can assure you is that everyone who is leasing property and space is paying their rent, so we have revenue coming in and things are positive," said Bill Fraser, the minister responsible for the Regional Development Corporation.
So far, the province has collected $152,000 in rent and is bringing in revenue from other services at the shipyard, such as lifting fishing boats out of the water at the end of the season.
Fraser said a U-wharf is under construction and a boat hoist being built overseas is expected to be delivered this fall.
Filion said Océan is satisfied with how things are going with its contract.
"Despite the renegotiation, we're still very happy to be in New Brunswick," he said. More people will join the workforce as they're trained, he said.
There have been no new subsidies from the province to the company, he added.
Fraser said he toured the site last month.
"Things are moving along very well," he said. "It's quite an impressive facility and I can [tell] you there's a lot of activity going on."
The naval centre was incorporated by the Town of Caraquet and the Village of Bas-Caraquet in 2014. One of the first projects was a floating dry dock to be built by Groupe Océan, a project that would provide training for local workers they could apply to future projects.
Work stopped at the site in December 2015 after the centre wasn't able to raise enough money to pay its share of the dry dock's cost. Several unpaid suppliers went to court to get their money.
The Liberal government blamed the problems on the previous Progressive Conservative government, which signed an agreement in 2014 as part of an attempt to revive the moribund shipyard.
Because the naval centre was set up by two municipalities, it wasn't able to borrow the money it needed from banks to match the province's funding.
The revised contract doubled the lease payments from Groupe Océan and made them responsible for the maintenance, repair and replacement of equipment.
When the new deal was finalized, provincial officials said they hoped to eventually find a buyer for the naval centre.
"Anything's possible," Fraser said Tuesday. "What's important right now is we get this centre running efficiently and we get new business generated at that centre to create jobs in the region, in the north."
Filion wouldn't rule out Groupe Océan eventually buying it.
"We've never closed the door on the possibility but for the moment, it's not in the cards," he said.