Town agrees to well testing, wants more info before approving hatchery

SAINT ANDREWS – At the second meeting of the new council for the Town of Saint Andrews, council was given a presentation by Joel Richardson, vice president of public relations for Cooke Aquaculture to show the need for test wells before the company can begin constructing a new salmon hatchery at the Champlain Industrial Park in Bayside. Mayor Brad Henderson said Cooke Aquaculture wants to build a new hatchery at the industrial park, but they are not able to get a sufficient amount of water to run an inland hatchery.

“So, what they’ve been doing is, they went further down the road and they did a couple of test wells,” said Henderson. “What they ideally would like to do is do some test wells to see if there’s adequate water source, but also a sustainable, adequate water source that doesn’t impact Chamcook Lake. They wouldn’t be looking at taking it directly from the lake, but from test wells.”

Henderson said Cooke Aquaculture has been working with the Province of New Brunswick’s department of environment, as well as with local government, and they reached out to the former council just after the election but prior to the new council being sworn in. He said at that time, council didn’t feel it would be appropriate to make a decision for the community, and the issue was held over until the second regular meeting and Richardson made the presentation.

While council had no objections to the company drilling the test wells, Henderson said they do have a lot of questions that need to be answered before any development of a hatchery could be approved. They need to ensure the wells needed for the hatchery would not jeopardize Chamcook Lake, which is the only water supply for the Town of Saint Andrews.

Richardson said there is a parcel of property in the industrial park that Kelly Cooke’s Salmon has acquired, and they are looking to build a post-smolt facility there so they can grow salmon. Smolt is a salmon that has been through what is known as smoltification. This process brings about physiological and morphological changes in the salmon so they can tolerate living in saltwater as opposed to freshwater. These salmon are called post-smolt as soon as they are able to adapt to the seawater. Facilities such as the one Cooke’s is proposing enables fish to grow larger while spending less time in saltwater.

“Down in the Champlain industrial park, there’s a parcel of property that Kelly Cooke’s Salmon has acquired,” said Richardson. “Our long-term plan is to build a post-smolt facility there to grow salmon. We would be growing our juvenile salmon there and then transferring them directly from that facility onto our well boats to be taken out to marine farm sites.”

Richardson said ground water from deep water wells is a “much purer water source for growing fish”, and this is what his company would prefer. They would be using innovative technology to be able to use much less water than other, older hatchery facilities. For instance, a hatchery that had been owned by the Atlantic Salmon Federation on Chamcook Lake, a flow-through hatchery, used approximately 1,500 gallons of water every minute. Richardson said the proposed facility would only use about 100 gallons per minute. The water would come in from the wells, and then be recirculated.

“It’s reused and filtered and purified with the technology in the system that we have. It’s really an innovative piece of equipment,” said Richardson.

Richardson said this system is called a “recirculating aquaculture system, or RAS system”. To find the freshwater they need for a project such as this, Richardson said they are looking for available ground water from wells in the industrial park area. They plan to drill a series of test wells in order to determine whether or not there is enough ground water available to supply the post-smolt facility with fresh water.

“We did two wells in the area a couple of years ago, and they didn’t have sufficient water,” said Richardson. “They were in a different location, closer to the industrial park. The reason that we went forward to the town is that they’re farther north, where it’s more of a sandstone kind of area. The engineering consultants have advised us that it would be a better area to drill the test wells.”

Henderson noted that council saw no reason to refuse the request to drill test wells, but he also said they require answers to several questions before they would support the construction of the new hatchery.

“At the end of the day, we need to make sure our water is safe and sustainable. As much as we’re all for development, even in the LSD’s surrounding us, the reality is that if we don’t have water, we don’t have a community. We have to be cognizant of that,” said Henderson.

Another factor the Town of Saint Andrews must take into consideration is “precipitation through climate change”. Henderson said this type of precipitation has been “down significantly in recent history”, and council wants to ensure that they are looking to the future, knowing that there may be less water in the future.

Henderson remarked, “There’s a lot of factors that you want to check before you go ahead and completely support a project.”

Richardson said all data that comes back from the testing will be provided to council, who are also looking at “alternative water sources for the town”. There is good news for the Town of Saint Andrews, and that is they can also get a lot of information from these test wells. It was agreed that Cooke Aquaculture would provide the results of their testing with Eastern Charlotte Waterways, and that the data can be used by the town, the province, and many organizations.

“They draw from Chamcook Lake,” said Richardson. “They’re working with Eastern Charlotte Waterways to look at alternative water sources. We committed to the town council that we would provide them with our data, which would also help their planning from a future prospective. They’ll know whether there’s water available in and around the area.”

If it is discovered that the water isn’t sufficient for the proposed hatchery, there is a backup plan to use water from Chamcook Lake that is allocated for the industrial park. But, because it is chlorinated and could have bio-contaminants, Richardson said this is not ideal. They would have to de-chlorinate the water before it could be used.

Richardson said this would be a $35 million project for the Champlain Industrial Park. It would create “a couple hundred” construction jobs, and approximately a dozen full-time new employees would be hired to work at the facility. This is a “multi-year construction project” that could take up to three years to construct.

“It would be an incredibly hi-tech, state-of-the-art salmon facility. It could be quite a nice addition to the Champlain industrial park, using state-of-the-art water technology,” said Richardson.

Henderson said Cooke Aquaculture is a “wonderful organization to have in our region”, because they employ many people, not only from Charlotte County but also from all over New Brunswick. So, if the test results are feasible and council can be assured that there will be no impact, they would like to support the project.

“With that being said, there’s the Town of Saint Andrews that draws water, Champlain industrial park does, Atlantic Salmon Federation does, of course the biological station draws water from it. They do have allotments that every user has for the lake to make sure we’re all staying within our means for water. So, we just want to make sure that we’re balancing that,” Henderson said.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca