Access Road permit sparks spirited debate in Holyrood

By Craig Westcott   |   The Shoreline News

Holyrood council had its first row of the new term on Tuesday when councillor Jim Joy and Mayor Gary Goobie squared off over the word “controversial” and whether it was a fitting adjective to describe a new mineral access road the Town has approved for Eagle Ridge International Ltd.

That’s the company that is exploring for gold near Big Triangle Pond off the Salmonier Line.

Joy was upset the Town issued a permit to the company a day after it started construction and without first sending it to council for approval. He was further perturbed that council was being asked to ratify the permit along with four other, unrelated, routine building permits, meaning that in order to continue his opposition to the project, he would also have to vote against permits that he didn’t have a problem with.

“This is a very controversial project,” said Joy, asking if the permit could be considered separately from the others.

The Town’s chief administrative officer, Gary Corbett, said the Town couldn’t retract the permit now that it had already been approved. As CAO, Corbett has the power to issue permits of his own volition and seek ratification for them at council afterwards, which is the case for most of the permits that come to council for a vote.

“All the requirements for the permit were met,” said Corbett. “There was no other rationale or reason not to issue the permit at that time.”

Council had previously given the road approval-in-principal twice back in 2015, but construction was delayed because the project was challenged in court over the way the then PC Environment Minister had approved the exploration permit, disregarding advice from his staff that it should first undergo an environmental assessment. A Supreme Court Judge ruled the project could proceed.

Joy said council should have attached conditions to its approval of the road.

“There were conditions attached to the approval in principle,” replied Corbett, “based on our development regulations and the most important one in that application was the requirement to meet all the (requirements) of the various government departments and all the various items that were outlined in the (Environmental) Preview Report in the Minister’s letter.”

Joy said he has been asked on numerous occasions about the access road. “Basically, the road was started without a permit,” he said. “Residents who were opposed to this road asked to have a Stop Work order issued. Within 24 hours, while working on the road, they were issued a permit by the Town. Basically, I’ve got many questions asking why final approval on this particular project was not brought to a public meeting.”

That brought Mayor Goobie into the debate. “Yes, the road was started for approximately 24 hours,” he said. “It was then brought to my attention and it was brought to the CAO’s attention. It was initiated by Eagle Ridge because they were under the impression that they could do it under the approval-in-principle.”

Once the company president was told otherwise, Goobie said, he was very apologetic. “And the next day he came down and he was issued the permit.”

Goobie said there was no new information in the Supreme Court ruling that changed anything regarding the road application. “There was no reason to prolong issuing that permit,” Goobie said. “And it is standard procedure in our town that we approve applications under an approval-in-principle. It’s left to the discretion of the CAO to ensure that they are compliant with all the terms and conditions set forth… Once that’s issued, then the permit is granted. It doesn’t reach our level because we found it was only prolonging the process for an excessive amount of time, and we let the CAO issue permits. That has been done for many years… What we’re doing tonight is no different than the past practice that we’ve been using for the last several years.”

Joy countered that because of the “controversy” about the road, those residents who are opposed to it would have liked the opportunity for council to add conditions to the permit. “I was of the understanding as well that we would add conditions once it was brought to the table for final approval,” said Joy.

“The conditions that were suggested were run through legal (counsel) and there were no teeth to them,” said Corbett. “All the conditions that were included in that approval-in-principal were all the legal conditions that the town had the authority to put in.”

As regards controversy, said Goobie, once the road started he received only one phone call about it. A demonstration against the road this past weekend, he added, was said to have some 400 participants coming, but “there might have been a dozen there. I think you should use your words carefully in saying controversy, because in the eyes of the public, I don’t know where the controversy is… I don’t want you putting it out there that this is a controversy when in actual fact there’s nothing that you’re saying that constitutes this being a controversy.”

Joy didn’t like the sound of that statement. “You shouldn’t (be saying) almost a warning to me to ‘Be careful with your words,’” Joy said. “My words are very well documented… Clearly all I’m saying here is that I will not be supporting any permits associated with this project on the basis of my opposition to the project.”

Goobie said he respects Joy’s right to do that. “I just wanted to clarify that when you use the word ‘controversy,’ I don’t think council recognizes that there is a big controversy… If there was, we would have been inundated with phone calls…. There were people opposed, but we haven’t had people banging on the doors of our chamber trying to get in. We’ve had private meetings between those who were opposed and full council and there was five people at that meeting. And over the years, if I got two phone calls on this, that’s about all… There was no just reason for the CAO to hold up that permit any longer than it was.”

After some further debate, and after councillor Sadie King complained that she too wanted to vote against the road but not against the other building applications as part of the same package, Mayor Goobie suggested that council split the motions.

Put to a vote, the motion pertaining to the permit for the access road alone passed 4-3 with King, Joy and councillor Kevin Costello registering nays. The motion for the four other applications passed unanimously.

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