New Brunswick

Belledune mayor urges quick action to attract new companies, replace Brunswick Smelter

The mayor of Belledune says the three levels of government must move quickly to attract new companies to the northern region, given the impending closure of the Brunswick Smelter in his village.

Glencore Canada plans to close 53-year-old plant by Dec. 31

Belledune Mayor Joe Noel said the smelter closure is a 'big loss' that will affect not only the 420 direct employees, but contractors and businesses from Miramichi to Campbellton. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The mayor of Belledune says the three levels of government must move quickly to attract new companies to the northern region, given the impending closure of the Brunswick Smelter in his village.

Joe Noel says the decreasing population of northern New Brunswick was already a concern and could soon get worse if the 420 employees and other affected contractors and businesses can't find new jobs.

"I know things are not as good out West as they used to be, but I still do know that there are companies that are looking to recruit people to go out there and work," he said on Thursday.

"So unless we have a plan in place that people know there's going to be some work here and you're going to be able to get another job here, we're going to have people packing up and leaving … and that's one thing we don't need."

Glencore Canada Corp. announced last week it plans to close the lead smelter by Dec. 31. It has been operating since 1966, but hasn't been profitable for the last three years, losing an average of $30 million per year, officials said.

Noel said the community is still in shock, but has to "pick up and continue on and that what we've been doing."

He's pleased with how quickly governments have responded so far, he said.

On Wednesday, the province announced it's creating a transition adjustment committee to help the employees and to help with economic development opportunities for the region.

The mayors from the Chaleur region also met with Opportunities New Brunswick officials Wednesday night to discuss ways to move forward.

On Tuesday, they met with Premier Blaine Higgs, several cabinet ministers and MLAs, representatives from the steelworkers union and business leaders.

Acadie-Bathurst MP Serge Cormier has also "reached out," said Noel.

The Brunswick Smelter has operated since 1966. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

"So it's all pretty positive except, you know, we have to move fast."

Noel thinks they should start by looking at companies that were already considering setting up shop in the region.

Maritime Iron Inc., for example, has proposed a $1 billion iron-ore processing facility in Belledune, which could create 1,000 short-term jobs and more than 200 permanent jobs.

"We have two or three [interested companies] that you know, maybe within a short period we could cement something at being here," said Noel.

He also wants to explore whether another company might be interested in taking over the smelter and operating it on a smaller scale, and hopes to attract some "green" businesses, such as recycling companies, he said.

"All options are on the table and there's going to be no stone left unturned."

Noel believes the region has several assets to offer, including the Port of Belledune. It's a year-round, deep-water port, with ample land around it to expand.

"Some of the companies that have looked at coming here, that's the big draw for them, it's the fact that they can get their products, bring products in from anywhere in the world, he said. "So we have to capitalize on that."

Noel admits it's a daunting task, but said he's up to the challenge.

"The people of this municipality and the whole region depend on us to do it," he said. "That's what I've been elected to do and that's what I'll do."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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