[SYDNEY, NS] — Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillors and staff won’t be commenting publicly for the time being on plans to develop and market a greenfield site on Sydney harbour after being threatened Friday with legal action by an unsuccessful bidder.
CBRM councillors Derek Mombourquette and George MacDonald were to appear on CBC’s Information Morning on Monday to talk about the greenfield site, but cancelled on the advice of the CBRM’s solicitors.
“At this point, based on pending events that might happen in the future, we are not to make any public comments (on the greenfield site),” said Mombourquette. “It was ultimately my decision; it was a balance between being an elected official and the director of an organization.”
Mayor John Morgan explained that the decision to impose a media blackout on public discussion of the greenfield site came after the municipality received notice from Atlantic Gateway on Friday that indicated the consortium was planning to initiate legal proceedings at some point in the future.
Morgan said Friday’s letter was “very similar” to previous correspondence from Atlantic Gateway, which contends that erroneous and selective information was conveyed to CBRM council and to the public regarding its long-term development plans for the 350-acre greenfield site adjacent to Sydport. Atlantic Gateway has also accused the mayor and council of using confidential information and selectively disclosed details while outbidding Atlantic Gateway in respect to the site.
Council voted unanimously to buy the land for $6 million, and its bid was ultimately accepted by the greenfield site owner, Laurentian Energy.
“I think our solicitor was trying to protect the councillors and anyone else from getting drawn into legal proceeding at some point,” said Morgan. “That having been said, we are a public body trying to protect one of the most important assets in the region, that being the greenfield site, and the effort to ensure that there is an opportunity to develop a global shipping terminal there.”
Morgan said the public has a right to have answers to any questions they might have, regardless of any threat of legal action.
“To me, there’s nothing in the document that shouldn’t be shared. To me, everything is public. (Atlantic Gateway) is simply threatening to potentially initiate legal proceedings in the future.”
Morgan added that, from his understanding, Rankin MacSween, CEO of New Dawn, which is a Laurentian shareholder, received a similar letter. MacSween could not be reached for comment at press time.
“I presume they are pursuing those who advocate developing a container terminal on that site,” said Morgan. “It’s not really clear to me why they would pursue Rankin MacSween, because Rankin wasn’t the first shareholder that came to the CBRM with concerns about putting a coal dump on that site, yet they are insisting they will initiate action against Rankin MacSween, even though he wasn’t the first source of information.”
In a May 15 letter to council, Atlantic Gateway said its plans for the greenfield site were to initially look at transshipment of bulk commodities, but with ongoing efforts to market a container terminal.
“The reason why council unanimously voted to acquire the greenfield site is because there is a real, substantive opportunity to develop a container pier at that site, and it’s important not to get distracted from that,” the mayor said. “But it’s fundamentally important as well that we not allow the site to be used as a coal dump or anything like that. If we were to be intimidated away from protecting the public interest here, it would really have disastrous consequences for the region.”