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Sandbanks MOU to become National Park

Representatives from the town of Burgeo, the provincial and the federal governments, and Indigenous groups signed a MOU last week to launch a feasibility study for a national marine conservation area and possible delegation of the Sandbanks Park as a national park. – Courtesy of MHA Andrew Parsons

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

BURGEO — On Friday Jun. 23 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the federal government, province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Miawpukek First Nation, Qalipu First Nation, and the Town of Burgeo to move forward with a feasibility study on a national marine conservation area and the potential conversion of Sandbanks Park into a national park. “Friday was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between all the partners that will explore the possibility of a national marine conservation area in the South Coast Fjords, as well as the possibility of establishing Sandbanks Provincial Park as a federal or national park. This has been years in the making. Friday was the actual signing ceremony in Burgeo with all the partners and now the work will commence,” said MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile), Minister of Industry, Energy and Technology. The work that went into the MOU was over two decades in the making. “The town of Burgeo, that’s where the idea came from and it’s carried on since then. There was absolutely a willingness from, I guess the federal side of things, whether it was Parks Canada and there’s a group called CPAWS (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society), they were there that day, and various councils have continued it over the years,” said Parsons. “There’s been a number of mayors and councillors that have taken it and run with it, including myself.” As with any major undertaking, there were struggles putting all the pieces together. “The biggest issue through all this process was that the provincial government had to be willing to do this and there was always a fear like – I started this myself. I’ve been working on this since 2011. So what you had was a fear amongst various provincial departments about what would the impact be on, for instance, offshore oil exploration, natural gas opportunities, aquaculture, commercial fisheries. So all these things led to, I guess I would call that a non-willingness to move forward. Since I got in government, what I have done is explain to my colleagues around the table that this is all about exploring the feasibility of this conservation area. What will it actually mean, what will it encompass? This will be the actual study done to show us if we do it, what does it look like? What are the pros and cons? And if you don’t do it, what can you expect? So we finally got the willingness from the province to move forward with this and, again, it makes all sense in the world. You don’t want to just go ahead and sign up for something without knowing the impact this will allow. Now the Feds will cover the cost of figuring out what the impact on this area would be.” The time it took to get to this point meant a lot of waiting for the people of Burgeo, and a lot of persistence. “The town of Burgeo led the charge. I mean, the biggest thing they had to do was be extremely patient. They have been advocating this for years. It’s a big endeavor, but I do think a lot of things came together. Number one, the federal government and the MP, they thought it was a great idea and the possibility of tying the Sandbanks Park into it, which I think is a necessity. I don’t think one happens without the other, but the biggest thing that had to happen was the advocacy within the provincial government,” said Parsons. “When I was in opposition, I had multiple meetings where I was just shot down and basically kicked out of the room. ‘Thanks for trying out, but no, we’re not interested.’ It took a lot of work because there’s been a lot of theoretical opportunities for the South coast in terms of things like aquaculture and oil exploration, and so there was always a fear that if you establish a marine conservation area, these things would not be possible. My biggest argument all along that I kept advocating for was, well, we haven’t seen a whole lot of actual, just the theoretical, so why not allow a study to be done that finally gives the area and the constituents the option to say what does one versus the other mean for us?” The possibilities for the people in the region could be significant. “I don’t think I really need a study to tell me this. I just think that one only has to look at other national parks just to see what it means from a funding perspective and from an infrastructure perspective. You just have so much more opportunity than you do from perhaps a provincial level. So I think it would be a no brainer. I just think it brings with it an additional investment and that in turn is going to take something that is already renowned within the province for being one of the most beautiful beaches and areas in the entire province, to bring that to a national level I think is going to create a lot of opportunity and just the spin off alone will be massive,” said Parsons. “You take something and add to it the advertising and marketing and just bringing it to a greater knowledge base and then the spin off and return from tourism opportunities could mean a lot of great things for the entire area.” The feasibility study will allow for the proper determination on whether or not these benefits will be significant enough. “My understanding is that this study will basically be an analysis of what the establishment of the area will actually do from a fiscal and financial perspective, from a science and environmental perspective, from a socioeconomic perspective,” said Parsons. “So basically it’s showing what the impact will be on current possible resource development. It’s going to put some meat on the bones of the idea. It’s going to allow us to finally know from, I think, a black and white perspective, what will it mean to us, what will this do for what you have and what you don’t have in terms of jobs and opportunity, give us some facts and figures from which I think we can then make an educated decision on if this something that we want.” The minimum amount of time required for the feasibility study is 18 months because it’s a significant undertaking. “I’m not anticipating that it’s going to be done anytime too soon, but again, that’s what you need if you’re going to make something this big happen, you have to put the necessary work into it,” said Parsons. “This step here was the culmination of more than two decades, so the town really was the champion behind it. This is not just an impact on Burgeo. This is going to impact the entire South coast. But the town of Burgeo was certainly the champion in pushing it forward and keeping the idea alive.”

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