New Brunswick

People in Sussex hopeful about future as potash mine is closed permanently

It wasn't the news the people of Sussex were hoping to hear: Nutrien Inc. has permanently closed its nearby potash mine after putting the operation on maintenance in early 2016. But residents say the town will keep moving forward.

News feels more like a small aftershock to residents who've already weathered loss of hundreds of jobs

Business owner Ann Ophaug is optimistic about the future of Sussex, despite the permanent closure of the Picadilly mine. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

Ann Ophaug moved to Sussex in 2004, and a year later, she and her husband, Erling, opened their shop, the Soap Works, in the downtown.

Ophaug remembers when 430 jobs were lost when Nutrien, then known as PotashCorp, put the Picadilly mine on care and maintenance in early 2016.

"I think initially it was quite a shock, and I think there was the feeling that maybe this was going to be a complete disaster for the town," Ophaug said Tuesday.

"But I think once the dust settled, overall, things have ticked along quite nicely and people have found out that it wasn't the end of the world. I know for some people … it depended on what your role was, but generally I think the town's coped very well with it."

Ophaug, whose Soap Works shop is in downtown Sussex, says the community has weathered job losses in the past and will keep moving forward. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

She was speaking after news this week that the operation will be closed completely, a move that will affect the 34 remaining employees.

"I think we kind of hoped that once economics turned around a little bit and maybe things would pick back up again," Ophaug said. "So it's sad to hear that, but I think at the end of the day, we are where we are now, so that extra news is not going to be such a huge effect on the town."

Will Tigley, a spokesperson for Nutrien, said the decision was based on lower production costs at sites in Saskatchewan and how much it would cost to bring the New Brunswick mine back online.

He said no employees will be laid off immediately.

The Sussex and District Chamber of Commerce is looking at ways to diversify the local economy. (Kate Letterick/CBC News )

"There's still a little work to do around the closure, so we will make sure we are working with those employees to retain them in order to finish up what we need to do with the site as we get closer to the closure," Tigley said.

"Other than that, there are some opportunities that we can move them around to some of our other facilities if the employees do choose to, and that is all part of how we will work with them."

A permanent closure wasn't the news some people hoped to hear, said Paul Bedford, president of the Sussex and District Chamber of Commerce.

"With the final closure, you know, it's definitely, it's a shock, there's no doubt there," Bedford said. "But I think everybody had it in the back of their mind that this isn't an overnight fix and will it ever open again or will it not?

Chamber president Paul Bedford says Sussex is more than just a mining town. (Kate Letterick/CBC News)

"We all hoped that the potash prices came back. We hoped with the merger of the two companies to form Nutrien that maybe things would change, but it didn't. So is it a kick? Yes. Will it keep us down? Most definitely not."

Sussex isn't just a mining town, and the chamber has been looking at ways to diversify the economy, he said. Options to consider include expanding existing businesses, farming and solar farms.

"Sussex is a tough town. They're resilient and you know what? They're going to keep marching forward. … Every month you're hearing of a new small business opening up here in town, so I'm proud to say that I live in Sussex and we need to keep things going."

Meanwhile, the Conservative MLA for Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins, Bruce Northrup, hasn't given up on potash.

When the former PotashCorp closed the mine, 420 jobs were lost. The company, now known as Nutrien, has kept the mine on care and maintenance since early 2016, with a workforce of 34. (CBC News )

"Last night was not a fun night for sure, to be told the mine was going to be shut down in the next two years, but we carry on today," said Northrup, whose party is about to take the reins of the provincial government.

"And we have a lot of work to do as a new government to see if why the lower operating and capital costs in Saskatchewan — if we can do that here in the province of New Brunswick."

He said the province could either keep talking to Nutrien or look for someone else to develop local resources, including natural gas.

Whatever happens, Ophaug said, she's glad she opened her business in Sussex and she's optimistic about the future.

"I've got great confidence in the people of Sussex. We can deal with anything."