The NDP says Ocean Choice International owes the provincial government hundreds of thousands of dollars for industrial water use since 2011.

But it's not clear where the bill stems from, or whether the province has been doing anything to collect on the debt from OCI.

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NDP MHA George Murphy is raising questions about how much government has collected from a debt owed by OCI. (CBC)

NDP Municipal Affairs critic George Murphy said Tuesday the amount — $714,300 — has been outstanding since budget estimates in April 2011.

Murphy subsequently filed an access to information request on the matter but he said he has been finding it difficult to get more information. He said the government has told him the information will not be released because it is "confidential and could harm the competitive position of a third party."

Murphy said the Department of Municipal Affairs was asked about the unpaid tab during budget estimates meetings last April.

"We were told it was a revolving balance, that there was always money that's put down on it," Murphy told The Fisheries Broadcast. "That was then, but this year in estimates it was the same thing.

"There was still an unchanged balance there. There was no sign that any money was put down on the balance that was owing, nor was there any interest charged, apparently."

"We have been stonewalled on it."— George Murphy, NDP Municipal Affairs critic

Murphy said he asked the province to show if payments were being made or if there was a schedule in place to have the bill addressed.

"We have been stonewalled on it. We can't find out if there were any payments made on it or what the reasons are for having an outstanding balance that's owed to the provincial government."

'Legacy structures'

When contacted by CBC, the Department of Municipal Affairs said in an email that industrial water systems are legacy infrastructure built in the late 1960s and early 70s by the federal and provincial governments for use by fish plants across the province.

"Currently, the Department of Municipal Affairs is responsible for the operation and maintenance of seven remaining industrial water systems including Ramea, Long Harbour, Comfort Cove, New Harbour, Dildo, Port Union and Fermeuse," a department spokesperson said.

"Systems with both industrial and residential/commercial users are separately billed on a quarterly basis by the Department of Municipal Affairs on behalf of the provincial government. Currently, all users are charged the same rate, while costs for operating these systems vary," the spokesperson continued.

"In the case of Port Union, the flat rate exceeded the cost of operating the system, which was unique to this location. This has led to some concerns in that area, and we are assessing the situation to determine what can or should be done to ensure reasonable treatment for all parties.

"The department remains committed to working with communities and industry to finalize agreements in the area of industrial water systems usage, and to resolve any outstanding debts."