Protesters against aquaculture expansion disrupt RQM council

by Charles Mandel

  • <p>KEVIN MCBAIN PHOTO</p><p>Stan Wentzell, who lives near the Kelly Cooke salmon site, invites Region of Queens Municipality councillors to take a look at what he and Brian Muldoon picked up on the beach in front of their house before the council meeting March 26.</p>

Acrimony and emotion boiled over, disrupting the regular Region of Queens (RQM) council meeting of March 26 as more than 35 people filled the gallery and protested the proposed expansion to aquaculture in Liverpool Bay.

The heated speeches of the protesters at one point caused RQM Mayor David Dagley to remark: "This is unacceptable in this council's chambers."

Most were members of the Protect Liverpool Bay group, and some half-a-dozen people addressed council to make their opinions known on Kelly Cove Salmon's controversial aquaculture expansion plans.

On March 6, Kelly Cove Salmon, a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture, submitted an application to the NSFA requesting approval for the expansion of its current salmon far in Liverpool Bay from 14 cages to 20 cages, with the addition of two new sites of the same size.

If approved, this could result in over 1.8 million salmon being farmed in Liverpool Bay at any given time.

The expansion proposal has become a flash-point in Queens County, and has turned into a major headache for RQM council, which has floundered when it comes to addressing the issue.

One of the most vocal protesters was Kristin Lewis of Milton, who brought her children with her along with signs. Visibly angry, her voice grew louder the longer she spoke.

"...We do not want pollution in Queens County and you are going to be remembered as a polluter and criminal," she said, directing her anger towards Dagley. "Can you look at these kids and I want you to tell them how much that you are going to pollute right now."

Dagley tried to address Lewis several times, but she continued to interrupt, ultimately sparking his comment about unacceptable behaviour in council chambers.

A couple of other protesters showed council a bag of Styrofoam that they said they'd picked up from the beach that morning, and which they claimed came from the fish farm.

Not everyone expressed opposition to the expansion plans. Former RQM mayor Christopher Clarke told the gallery: "I might be the only person here who is going to speak in favour of the fish farm project and I may not get out of here in one piece."

Clarke noted that he is encouraged by talks between Cooke and the Medway River Association to try and restore the salmon population in the river.

RQM council has been in a quandary for weeks as to how to handle the conflict between the protesters and Kelly Cove. Council has been warned previously that acting as an intervenor could cost the municipality up to $200,000.

Jurisdiction over the issue has been another matter for debate. "We talk about jurisdiction. We don't have any. But it made me think about recently with the fish deaths," said Kelly.

"I understand they were required to notify the Region of Queens that this happened. I wonder why they did that? If they are required as part of the process, to do this. Why is that important? Whatever happens there, has an affect on the Region of Queens. It has an affect on our shores, it has an affect on our land and on our waters. That's important."

Councillor Susan MacLeod came down firmly against the expansion. "This is causing a lot of negative feelings. In my opinion, silence is consent. If we don't say anything to the governing bodies, or our MLAs or the people that make these decisions, then we are approving what they want," she said.

"I am not in favour of expansion, or any new sites in Liverpool Bay. I don't see enough economic benefits and I feel that their other alternatives for this company, such as a land-based operation."

Kelly requested a staff report that will outline the options for council along with associated costs.

Chief Administrative Officer Chris McNeill reminded council that there is a letter on the books from 2015 from the previous council, showing that they were against fish farms in Port Mouton Bay, but that they supported expansion in Liverpool Bay.

This letter now must be rescinded, which councillors said they would do at the next council meeting April 9.

Following that, council can then make a motion to move forward with whatever option they choose.

With reporting by Kevin McBain

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