The province is finalizing purchase of Georgetown Shipyards from  Cavendish Farms for the same price J.D. Irving Limited acquired the  facility in the 1990s – one dollar.

“It’s a key opportunity,” Adam  Ross, principal secretary to Premier Dennis King said, that could be  used to unlock economic and residential growth. Stakeholders, as well as  the public, will be consulted before any redevelopment proceeds.

The  property was transferred from Irving Shipbuilding Inc. to Cavendish  Farms in December of 2022. reported the purchase price  as $1.4 million.

Tim Mair, president of Georgetown Port Inc,  worked at the yard through three periods in his life as a labourer,  pipe-fitter and in the administration office. 

The port’s board of  directors examined purchasing the shipyard about a year ago. The group  discussed the potential of renovating and leasing space to industrial  tenants. Despite what Mr Mair describes as a “good deal, not as good as  one dollar, but a good deal” offered by Irving for the yard, the board  forecast it would cost millions to renovate. It also struggled to find  the right combination of tenants. 

“It was just too big of a bite for us,” he said. 

Mr  Mair still thinks this plan could be worth the investment if the  province finds the right groups to lease space. He also believes the  best use of the property is industry related to one of Georgetown’s  strongest  assets – its natural deep harbour, accessible to local and  transatlantic shipping lanes. 

At 11 metres deep, Georgetown  Harbour is deeper than any major Island port including Charlottetown  (10m), Summerside (7m) or Souris (8m). But it is shallower than Halifax,  NS (17m), Sydney, Cape Breton (17m) and St John’s, Newfoundland (13m). 

Mr  Mair said if the yard isn’t used for shipbuilding it is still well  positioned to accommodate other marine manufacturing business, or for  example, industry to repair and maintain large vessels such as super  yachts.

He suggests there is crown land in other Georgetown  locations appropriate for residential development that wouldn’t impede  harbour related economic opportunity. 

“There is often (NIMBY),  not in my back yard,” concerning harbourfront industry. But, he said,  the community will for this type of activity is present in Georgetown  and the province should take advantage. 

“Whatever the province decides to do, it will be great to see some movement,” he said. 

Georgetown  has a rich history in shipbuilding dating back to the 1800s but the  shipyard as locals know it opened in 1965, when Bathurst Marine moved  its operations to PEI from New Brunswick. Following a series of industry  dips and swells, in 1994 the Town of Georgetown conveyed the property  to Irving Shipbuilding. Irving invested in infrastructure and with the  help of government funds, won a $15 million contract to build tugboats  for the Panama Canal Authority. 

This was projected to pay 112 to  127 employees from a payroll estimated at $3 million when it was first  announced in 2000. The contract also created related work for multiple  businesses in the area. 

Aside from this major tug contract,  workers at the yard built a variety of vessels and modules such as the  engine room components for Navy ships constructed in Saint John and  Halifax through 1992-1994 and 1996-1998. 

As the global market for Georgetown-built tugs diminished, the yard struggled to find new work. It closed in 2010. 

The  community has gone through periods of hope that it would reopen –  particularly when Irving secured a $25 billion contract to build combat  ships in Halifax in 2011, and again when engineering firm Aspin Kemp  & Associates, located in Brudenell, landed an $80 million contract  to build equipment for General Electric’s Global Offshore and Marine  Division.

Three Rivers councillor Cody Jenkins, Ward 4  (Launching/Georgetown), was one of the electricians laid off prior to  the yard’s closure. 

“The job was two minutes from my house, and it was a union job with good benefits and vacation,” he said.

When the yard closed he saw it affect the workers and small businesses. The town’s tax revenues dropped.

“I think it’s great to see something happening.” 

He  looks at how the former Georgetown Economic Development organization,  along with the province and federal government took on the former  Irving-owned sawmill and timber yard, invested in infrastructure and  succeeded in attracting businesses such as Eastern Fabricators, now AGI  and Frontier Power System to the area.

A portion of the former  timber yard is now planned to be repurposed as a clean-tech park, a  60-acre, tax-free zone for clean tech companies and environment related  academia and education.

If something similar or complementary  could happen at the Shipyard, Coun Jenkins sees it as a win that could  bring prosperity to Georgetown and the surrounding area.

By Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 19, 2023 at 06:10

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eastern Graphic   Montague, Prince Edward Island
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