OCI hands over shuttered plant to Port Union
'We are not just a seasonal community. And we want year-round jobs,' says Shelly Blackmore
A Port Union fish plant shut down by Hurricane Igor is getting a second chance as the town takes it over in hopes of revitalizing the local economy.
The former Ocean Choice International plant has been transferred to Trinity Bay North — which includes Port Union — at no cost, the municipality announced Monday. About 170 people were thrown out of work in 2011 when OCI decided to close the plant, citing extensive damage by Igor the year before.
"I know a lot of you are looking for work and we are looking for work," said Shelly Blackmore, Trinity Bay North councillor and chairwoman of the municipality's economic development committee at an announcement at the plant. "We're walking the same path.
"This community is a year-round community," she added. "We are not just a seasonal community. And we want year-round jobs. So that's our goal."
The municipality couldn't say just yet how that goal would be achieved, but Trinity Bay North Mayor Tom Cooper said they've been speaking to several parties looking to invest in or use the facility.
"We have investors that are interested in coming in here, so what we're looking at right now is getting the building up to be refurbished, getting it up to be usable," Cooper said.
"And then we're going to have investors coming in, and we're looking at individuals coming in and leasing the building."
Blaine Sullivan, Ocean Choice's chief operating officer, said the company had no more use for the building.
"We told the town council early on that we were going to find another alternative use for this facility if we could, and if we couldn't we certainly wouldn't stand in the way if they were successful in finding something," he said.
"They've been working parallel to us, and they've got the confidence now to take the facility on."
Cooper said the municipality saw an opportunity to take over the plant after a potential purchase by a private individual fell through, and its economic development committee decided to ask Ocean Choice if transferring the property was possible.
"It was as simple as that," he said, adding negotiations took a couple of years. "It took a lot of negotiation, took a while to happen, but we're very pleased at the end of the day that OCI has done this for us, and it's been done with minimal impact on the town and taxpayers."
More than $2 million in renovations
Sullivan said after six years without finding a way to reopen the plant, Ocean Choice felt obligated to turn the plant over to the municipality.
Sullivan said Ocean Choice has done more than $2 million in work to the building, about 30 per cent of what would be needed to restore it as a shrimp plant.
Cooper said the deal is conditional on an environmental impact study, and it will be at least a month before the deal is finalized.
"It's going to be a couple of months at least before you see any movement at all. We're hopeful that you may see movement in the fall, you may see jobs, but we're being optimistic."
With files from Chris Ensing