Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Mixed reaction to spaceport construction approval

Most businesses, local government support project; some residents opposed

  • September 7 2022
  • By Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH – “I think it is fantastic they got the approvals to proceed with the project,” said Vernon Pitts, warden for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG), in response to the news that Maritime Launch Services had received the go-ahead last week from the Nova Scotia Department of Environment to begin construction at the Nova Scotia Spaceport project site near Canso.

In an interview with the Guysborough Journal on Sept. 5, Pitts added: “This is going to be fantastic for the municipality, not just from a tax perspective but more so for jobs. This is certainly going to bring people into the area that are within the building trades. They can do a lot of that work — carpenters, millwrights, electricians, pipe fitters, welders — I anticipate they’ll [MLS] be bringing some of their own resources, but our people will certainly be employed there. I think that’s great. And a lot of the people they bring in from away, hopefully they’ll set roots down in communities [here] and build homes, their children will go to our schools, and they’ll support our businesses.”

MODG’s support for the proposed spaceport project has been evident since MLS first pitched the idea of creating a medium-class rocket launch site in the municipality in 2017. But not all citizens are in favour of the project, as evidenced by the ‘We say no to the Canso Spaceport’ posters erected against the project in Canso, Hazel Hill and Little Dover — the communities closest to the proposed launch site.

Lynette Newell, a Canso-area resident opposed to the project, spoke to The Journal about her concerns on Sept. 2.

“In the beginning I was like everyone else,” Newell told The Journal, “and I was interested in what was proposed, what was being said, but the more I listened to it, the more I explored things on my own, the more information I tried to dig up, the more alarm bells went off. I talked to friends of mine who work in Ontario for a soil and water remediation company, and I talked to them about the proposed rocket fuel they [MLS] were planning to use and they told me, 'You need to get as far away from that as possible.’”

News that MLS had received approval to begin construction was not welcomed by Newell. She has concerns about the health and safety of the environment, her community, friends and family and told The Journal, if the project gains momentum, “I will pack up my family and leave. I am not going to stay. I will fight to the bitter end and that’s my plan. I am absolutely grief stricken about that…I can’t sleep, I’m so upset.”

Newell points to new developments in the area that have occurred in recent years without the rocket launch facility as signs of positive change.

“Our community is growing…We have things that we haven’t had for years; someone opened a store [selling Costco products] here; we have people moving in renovating homes into Airbnbs. They have jobs; all these people are coming to Canso and getting jobs. We are constantly looking for people at the hospital. We have nurses that came, and their partners all found jobs in the community,” said Newell.

“We have done so many things to destroy our beautiful province and it’s just continuing; that’s the bottom line, it’s the environment and the safety of the people. If we don’t have a clean environment to live in, we’re not going to survive and thrive,” Newell concluded.

The Journal asked Warden Pitts what he had to say to residents like Newell who are strongly opposed to the MLS spaceport project. He said, “We have to rely on someone in regard to environment approvals. The municipality doesn’t have the resources to look into that or to award permits to construct. We have to rely on the province and the federal government for that. There’re certain hurdles you have to overcome in regards to any project, and this one here, from what I can gather, they’ve been [given] their project [approval] to proceed. And I think it’s good…. [Regardless] of who it is, you’re aways going to have your naysayers. It doesn’t matter what comes, they don’t want it, they want things the way it was 100 years ago. Those days are gone. We’re in the rocket age now.”

Pitts concluded the interview by stating, “I know for a fact that most people in the MODG and across the province are in favour of this project and I would like to see it proceed.”

Many in the business community agree with Pitts and are excited about the spaceport project moving forward.

Ann Marie Bagnall, chair of the Guysborough and Area Board of Trade, sent the following comment to The Journal via email: “The approval to start construction is indeed an exciting step forward in this project and welcome news for the majority of our members. Canada's spaceport will provide a huge economic boost to our local area that we sorely need. From direct employment opportunities, growth in new and existing businesses to support the spaceport, and the boost in tourism that is expected, we are looking forward to working with Steve [Matier—president and CEO of MLS] and his team as they enter this next stage of development.”

Canso and Area Development Association President and Chair Harold Roberts told The Journal in an interview last week, “On behalf of the Canso and Area Development Association, I would like to congratulate Steve Matier and his team for their perseverance to get the project to this milestone, for them. We wish them every success for their project and its impressive that they’ve met all the environmental conditions that were required [for this stage], which took some time.”

Asked how this project would impact development in the Canso area, Roberts said, “I think the development of the project will certainly have multiple impacts on the community. Favourable economically for sure, the creation of jobs and spin-off jobs that would also be attached to the project. From an economic development perspective, it would be certainly beneficial to the area, the municipality and beyond in terms of taxation as well. It’s a win for the community, and a win for the municipality and the province. We look forward to the development as it progresses.”