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Cape Breton business torn apart by Fiona's fury still waiting for Ottawa to provide funds

cbc.ca logo cbc.ca 2022-12-02 Matthew Moore

A fish processing company in Neils Harbour, N.S., is still waiting for federal aid money more than two months after its plant was torn apart by the winds of post-tropical storm Fiona.

Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. employs 130 people through full time and seasonal work in Northern Cape Breton. Osborne Burke is general manager of the plant where lobster and snow crab is processed and says he expected immediate financial help, but that hasn't happened.

"If the private sector moved as quickly as the federal government, we'd be in a disaster situation," Burke said. "Eight weeks later. And nothing."

Burke is frustrated because the federal government has not offered clear rules for receiving the aid. 

His business continues to replace wooden exterior walls with concrete to reinforce the building before the next storm rips through the community. After losing more than $4 million due to damage to the building and the specialized equipment inside, plus lost seafood product — including $800,000 in lost crab meat — Burke says they're barely holding on as they wait for federal funds.

Victoria Co-operative Fisheries general manager Osborne Burke says funds promised by the federal government still haven't arrived, putting the business in a tight financial bind. © Matthew Moore/CBC Victoria Co-operative Fisheries general manager Osborne Burke says funds promised by the federal government still haven't arrived, putting the business in a tight financial bind.

"Its impact is in the fact that we're negotiating with our bank," he said. "We have to extend our lines of credit. There's additional costs to that."

When Fiona ripped through the community, several homes were destroyed, a nearby bridge was swept away and ended up crashing into the plant. A small wharf located next to the plant had supports ripped out and remains nearly submerged.

Victoria Co-op Fisheries, the region's largest employer, was hard hit. 

Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant suffered severe damage on Sept. 24 from post-tropical storm Fiona. Operations manager Roland Michaels stands near part of the concrete wall that was washed out from underneath the building, leaving one end dangling over the pier. © Tom Ayers/CBC Victoria Co-op Fisheries processing plant suffered severe damage on Sept. 24 from post-tropical storm Fiona. Operations manager Roland Michaels stands near part of the concrete wall that was washed out from underneath the building, leaving one end dangling over the pier.

Burke says the company immediately began to fix walls ripped out by the sea, repair and replace waterlogged equipment and remove debris strewn across the property.

When the federal government announced the $300-million Hurricane Fiona Recovery Fund, Burke applied through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and hoped would be acceptable. 

An aerial view of a portion of New Haven Road, near Neils Harbour, that washed in the ocean during the storm, forcing people to take a long detour to get into the community. © Tom Ayers/CBC An aerial view of a portion of New Haven Road, near Neils Harbour, that washed in the ocean during the storm, forcing people to take a long detour to get into the community.

Burke says the bank and insurance company he deals with have been exceptionally helpful, but the same assistance has not been available from ACOA.

This week, ACOA announced it has just started accepting applications to support communities and hard-hit sectors in Atlantic Canada that are not eligible for other financial support. Burke says waiting until two months after the storm is not good enough.

"Ottawa is not moving fast enough. They don't have a criteria. You can't make an announcement and say you're going to get money out" and then not follow through, he said.

When asked specifically about Victoria Co-operative Fisheries, ACOA said they cannot comment on the status of applications. The statement adds that decisions about which applications will be eligible are still being made.

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