N.B. poultry plant site sees six-figure damage: owners

Construction of a major poultry slaughter and cutting plant in northwestern New Brunswick’s Madawaska region has been hit with vandalism, the plant’s owners say.

Quebec meat processing company Olymel and New Brunswick poultry producer Groupe Westco on Monday reported "several hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage" at their construction site at Clair, N.B., about 30 km southwest of Edmundston.

The damage, the companies said, was due to unspecified "acts of vandalism" at the site Saturday.

According to Madawaska RCMP, a dump truck at a Clair construction site was "completely destroyed" by fire by the time Clair’s fire department and RCMP responded at about 3 a.m. Saturday.

Someone or some people apparently also tried to start a number of smaller fires at several utility trailers on the site, but were "unsuccessful," the Mounties said in a statement Saturday. "At this point, it appears the fires were deliberately set."

"We are confident that the investigation undertaken by the RCMP in the aftermath of these events will lead to the arrest of the guilty parties, and we offer the investigators our full co-operation," Westco CEO Thomas Soucy said in a separate release Monday from the two "Sunnymel" partners.

However, Soucy said, the damage would not prevent work at the site, underway since last August and "currently ahead of schedule."

The $40 million plant, with capacity to kill about 450,000 birds per week, is scheduled to be operational before the end of 2012, the companies said.

Supply management

The Sunnymel partners first announced plans for the joint venture in 2008, after which Westco began shipping its Sunnymel birds to Olymel’s plants in Quebec for processing until the Clair plant could be built.

The two companies stepped into controversy with their proposal as Nadeau Poultry, a major processor at nearby St. Francois-de-Madawaska, N.B., responded by laying off about half its staff.

The Sunnymel agreement stood to starve the Nadeau plant’s supply of live chickens from Westco’s barns, Nadeau claimed.

The circumstances that allowed Westco to gain such control of the province’s chicken supply contravene the principles of Canada’s supply management system for poultry, Nadeau has alleged previously.

At one point in September 2009, a highway blockade, reportedly manned by angry Nadeau employees, went up temporarily to stop trucks shipping Westco birds to Olymel plants in Quebec.

The provincial government of the day responded with a ministerial order in early 2010 that designated Nadeau as the only federally-inspected plant for processing of chickens raised within New Brunswick.

That order, however, was later invalidated in court and the Liberal government, which issued the order, was voted out in September 2010.

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