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Growth means more revenue for Stephenville

Stephenville Mayor Tom Rose. – File photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

STEPHENVILLE – Tom Rose, who has had 12 years’ experience in municipal politics, has been mayor of Stephenville for the past six years. During that time, Rose hasn’t seen growth in the municipality like what has been stirring the past two years. With major industries taking a shine to Stephenville, it is poised to experience growth on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the U.S. air force base was present. “I always believed that Stephenville had such unique and valuable infrastructure with the international airport and the port connected, good location, great weather, good soil topography. I always felt something would happen, but never in my wildest dreams would I’ve ever thought something of this scale would happen to Stephenville in western Newfoundland,” said Rose. The exact turning point for the town attracting such massive organizations is something Rose often ponders. “I reflect on that, and I know in my role, even for ten years when I worked at the airport, I remember being in to the World Trade Centers, promoting Stephenville as an intermodal potential site to big companies. I remember being down in offices with Emory Worldwide, FedEx, UPS, big cargo companies in the U.S. talking about Stephenville as a trans-shipment site,” said Rose. “I remember being down there with former Minister MHA from this area, Kevin Aylward, promoting, and sometimes I often wonder if all of that marketing and promoting of Stephenville over the years, if it got in front of the right people at the right time. Everything is timing.” One of the new big players in Stephenville is World Energy GH2 who recently completed their purchase of the Port of Stephenville and are currently awaiting government approval to begin their wind development project on the Port au Port Peninsula. “With World Energy GH2, John Risley, for example, is not a stranger to this area. He started his career, I think, in 1973, buying lobsters in Piccadilly,” said Rose. “So he probably was aware, John Risley, who has executive jets, and understands the importance of airports. But at the end of the day, this is Canada, a great place to invest. Newfoundland is a great place to invest. Stephenville is a great place to invest, and this sale is now being touted as the single largest private investment in the history of Atlantic Canada.” The investment is focused around the wind development project. “The final investment decision is not made until they get environmental approvals and so forth, but the decision to take it where it is today, there had to be a lot of checkboxes. You don’t have a $12 billion project happening without a lot of checkboxes. Logistics, location, political climate, all those factors,” explained Rose. “I’ll always say, and I’ve always said it, that in North America, the only place close to Stephenville that’s got big infrastructure to do intermodal sea to air, air to sea, is Seattle, Washington, and that’s a big piece of infrastructure. We have it. We have the ability, and just that alone is going to play a critical role into the success of this project.” Before the purchase by World Energy GH2, the Port of Stephenville, which was privately owned, stayed quiet for many years. “The last time the port was probably busy from a functional port with consistent business was in 2005, or prior to that, when the Abitibi-Price mill was operating. Big ships up to 660 feet long would come in, with big drafts of 35 feet, to come in and take paper, and actually, it was interesting, they used to ship paper to Hamburg, Germany, and now we’re scheduled to ship ammonia to Hamburg, Germany. So the route is the same. It’s just the commodity is different,” said Rose. “Now it’s a very green product that is going to play a critical role. When they purchased the port, I thought it was a very strategic move because having the port, sometimes they refer to that as forward integration. You’ve got an ammonia hydrogen plant, now you own the port that’s actually going to play a role to ship it out. It’s like forward integration and it’s a model that sometimes companies will do. So I’m very excited about that because prior to that the port wasn’t really that busy. There was some scheduled business that would come in from time to time, but now there’s going to be scheduled business and even boats, coming in with MOWI (salmon hatchery in Stephenville) for salmon.” Another major player in Stephenville is Dymond Group of Companies, which is in the process of finalizing its purchase the Stephenville Airport. The sale, along with the numerous delays, has prompted a swell of negativity from some. “That was a long drawn out process. We’ll be closing in on two years from when the announcement was made by Carl Dymond at a press conference at the Stephenville International Airport. It really got slowed down with the bankruptcy protection by, I would say six, seven months. There were creditors that didn’t settle, so it sat in bankruptcy protection and then the lawyers having to finalize who gets paid. Some of these companies went out of business. Some proponents had passed, unfortunately. So a lot of complications and the legal system, I think, even got slowed down after COVID and that played a role,” said Rose. “But the latest we’re at is the money has now, from what I understand from the board, has been committed by Carl Dymond’s lawyers to pay off the terms, which is roughly a couple of million dollars, and now it’s on the airport’s lawyers to complete all the transactional requirements, to actually transfer the deed and the set of keys to Carl Dymond, and he really couldn’t do anything or invest until he actually received the deed. It’s almost like closing a house, the closing date for a house. You can’t actually move in or move your furniture in or do anything, the same kind of principle.” Rose understands that patience is wearing thin, not just for those involved, but for residents as well. “I think by the end of the week they may have the closing date firmed up and I can’t wait because I know it’s been long and drawn out. A lot of people are impatient. But the great news for Carl Dymond is that World Energy’s investment now is going to drive corporate traffic, cargo traffic. It’s going to reestablish, I’m 100 per cent sure, commercial traffic back into Stephenville, because we have a 20-year development that’s going to have a work camp that could have a couple of thousand workers here,” said Rose. “There’s big business for the airline market. I have no doubt Provincial Airlines or Porter Airlines will now re-instate and the airport’s going to come back, and just the lay down area on the airport is very valuable to the scale of this project. Carl Dymond has his own business ideas with drone development, with hangar development. He wants to build a new airport terminal, which we absolutely need. Our terminal was built by the Americans in the 50s. It’s outdated, tiny, the electrical, mechanical HVAC, it’s time for a new terminal for Stephenville, especially with this significant growth.” That doesn’t mean the old terminal will be torn down either. “I think their plan is to keep the old terminal and turn it into a U.S. Air Force museum, which is part of our tourism idea for Stephenville, to hold on to our rich U.S. military history,” said Rose. Furthering this international attention, a PBS production recently finishing filming at the airport, which marked the first time PBS ever had a production shoot in Newfoundland and Labrador. “I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Fabian James Productions out of St. John’s. They reached out to us as a community and they had completed a couple of productions called Inside the Circle, but they had a new idea of the production which would be ‘Towns in Tune.’ So they partnered with their connections with PBS in the U.S. with a city called Lake City, South Carolina,” said Rose. “The production shoot that took place was in April of this past year, but in Stephenville, on June 24 weekend, we had the big production shoot here. It’s close to a million dollars in production costs and what’s really great for us is that we naturally have a relationship with the U.S. as a former U.S. Air Force base. We were a 911 airport. We were an airport that actually went on readiness alerts for the space shuttle, and it was interesting, one of the astronauts who lost his life in the Challenger disaster was from Lake City – Ron McNair.” The relationship that was cultivated between the two communities as a result of the production has been overwhelmingly positive. “So we built this great relationship, this great bond with Lake City, with Mayor Robinson. They had contingents up in Stephenville. We had artists from the U.S., musicians, and it’s a sharing of culture that we hope that we’re going to cultivate and grow in the future and do more things with Lake City,” said Rose. “But this is going to hit possibly 60 per cent of the PBS market in the U.S. I couldn’t buy the marketing, of course, that this is going to give Stephenville, Newfoundland.” Other benefits that will come to Stephenville includes revenue. The operating budget for the municipality will see an increase. “I think we’re roughly a $10 million budget. I can see us going to a $15 million budget fairly quickly, which means new tax revenue. We’ll be able to have better roads, better recreation, take care of our environment and our riparian zones,” explained Rose. “We’re actually going to have to hire more staff at the town of Stephenville, obviously, if we’re going to grow. We anticipate 15 to 20 years from now, we could double in population and we could be heading towards city status in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that’s great for our province because on the west coast, from St. Anthony to Port aux Basques, we’ve got about 90,000 people and this is the first major economic boom for western Newfoundland in 50 years.” An understandable question as a result of a potential population explosion would be where everyone will live. “We’re planning already. We’ve got a planner that we’ve engaged with last winter and we had the first desktop meeting on it. We’re waiting for September, October, so we have a lot of really good civil land ready for expansion,” said Rose. “We think we know where our industrial and light industrial is going to go, and that’s primarily the ramp area, that’s between the airport and the port. It’s about 1,400 meters of massive development potential, but our residential, we’re waiting to get feedback on that. We think we know where it’s going to go, but I could see us probably building about 1,500 homes in the next 10 years in Stephenville and it’s just so great to hear.” Rose has no doubt that the Town of Stephenville is up to the task. “It’s all about planning and being strategic. We’re going to work closely with all of our local developers. A couple of things you can do in a community is you can infill a lot of areas, and that’s important because your water and sewer is already there, so you infill as much as you can. Sometimes you might have to go up instead of spreading out for urban sprawl, so you might see condo units being built in Stephenville. You might see more apartment complexes, but also there will be more residential in the plans,” said Rose. “So I think we can keep up. We’re good in Stephenville. We’ve got over 100 water lines and close to 100 sewer lines. We have more water lines than sewer lines, but we’re poised for expansion. We’ve got a lot of industrial water. We’ve got two big aquifers that we would probably have to drill more wells into to get more potable water, and our sewer treatment facility, we’re just going through a big retrofit there, but the capacity there could, and one nice thing about Stephenville, Newfoundland is we’re fully compliant under federal legislation for treating our effluent. There’s a lot of communities across this country that are not compliant. Unfortunately the sewer is going out into wherever it goes, I won’t call it the breadbasket, but our protein source of oceans and rivers, and that’s unfortunate, but we’re in good shape.” As with any major undertaking, there will undoubtedly be some hurdles and challenges. “In the next three months, our biggest challenge is getting RFPs out, working with our local contractors to start the development of new residential. I would say residential is going to be our greatest one, no doubt about it. So down by the hospital where Pieroway Park used to be, we’re looking at the second phase there now and that could be upwards to 100 new residential lots that’s ready to do,” said Rose. “We could do an RFP ASAP on that. We’re looking at Igloo Road also, which goes up by the Stephenville Dome, beautiful piece of town property that goes right up to Route 460 and has lots of capacity there to put maybe commercial and residential. So we’re going to need new commercial sites. We think some big box stores will start looking at Stephenville because of the poised growth. It would be kind of a business park for commercial and stuff like that, not for heavy or light industrial, but more for the commercial side of things. I think we’re going to see new hotels coming to Stephenville, new restaurants, everything new. Dry cleaner, we need a dry cleaner if anybody’s out there that’s into the dry cleaning business.” Rose is hoping to get some assistance from the provincial government, and wants to meet with representatives sooner rather than later. “Often, you know, governments assist. For example, Port aux Basques was assisted when we had this major devastation of Fiona. Stephenville 20 years ago had the big flood, and you help when communities are in urgency. Well, Stephenville kind of got an urgency, too, as a municipality, that I may need additional help from the feds and the province to help me get my infrastructure up and ready for the poised growth, and I would say we could possibly be the fastest growing town in Atlantic Canada.”

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