After more than a year of back and forth, a complete environmental assessment is now underway for a proposed salmon farm in Placentia Bay.

But, if a case underway in the Court of Appeals rules in the government's favour, it could get dropped.

Aqua Maof Group Marystown sea cages

The Placentia Bay salmon farm would be one of the biggest in the country. (Aqua Maof Group/Submitted)

Minister of Environment Eddie Joyce gave Grieg NL, the company behind the project, official notice Thursday that an environmental impact statement — the province's highest level of environmental assessment — is required in order for the company to proceed with its plans to build the salmon farm.

The project would be one of the biggest salmon farms in the country, more than doubling the province's annual production of farmed salmon.

A year of back and forth

In July 2016, the government decided an environmental impact statement (EIS) wasn't necessary. Joyce said that decision was made because government felt its own environmental regulation and monitoring would suffice.

"We felt at the beginning that the regulatory reforms that were in place and the regulatory process would cover a lot of the mitigating factors in the whole Grieg proposal," said Joyce.

The Atlantic Salmon Federation disagreed and appealed that decision. It went to the Supreme Court in May 2017.

In July, the court decided that, in fact, an EIS was required.

Then, in August, government announced it would be appealing that decision.

And though Joyce told Grieg NL Thursday that an EIS is required, the appeal is ongoing in court.

'Everything that we do is by legislation'

Joyce said the appeal is intended to determine what parts of the government's existing regulations don't measure up.

"What we're saying to the court [is that] we feel confident that there were regulatory bodies in place to cover this," he said.

'Wherever we improve science, that's always a good thing to do.' - Gerry Byrne

"We're asking the court for some direction, we're appealing. What is it in our environmental regulations [that] are not there that we should have there, if there's another project that comes up?"

The request for an EIS sent Thursday, he said, was issued because right now, as the law demands it.

"Right now, everything that we do is by legislation," he said.

He also said that if government wins this latest appeal, the EIS could be dropped.

"If the court case comes back and says the regulatory reviews that [we] had in place in the first place [were] sufficient, I'm not sure there's any need for the EIS," he said, stressing that any research or studies done in the process would still be valuable.

Gerry Byrne

Minister Gerry Byrne says ordering the EIS was "the right thing to do." (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Minister of Fisheries Gerry Byrne agrees.

"Wherever we improve confidence, wherever we improve evidence, wherever we improve science, that's always a good thing to do," he said.

'Unneccessary'

Following Joyce's announcement, Grieg issued its own statement saying it would oblige, but that it believes the "completion of an EIS is unnecessary from an environmental perspective."

"Grieg NL looks forward to resuming work on the project if the appeal is successful," the company wrote.

Joyce said that it's hard to tell how long the EIS will take. There is a 120-day window for an environmental assessment committee to be chosen and for the guidelines to be drafted. After that, the public will be invited to weigh in.

Then, said Joyce, it's up to Grieg to ensure the project meets the EIS requirements.

In the meantime, hearings begin in the government's appeal of the Supreme Court ruling in December.