Olymel, Westco gather property for poultry plant

Poultry processor Olymel and chicken producer Groupe Westco have moved to assemble more land and buildings for their planned poultry plant in northwestern New Brunswick.

The companies, operating under a partnership dubbed Sunnymel, said Wednesday they’ve bought two buildings and another 100 acres of land for an undisclosed sum, near the private land they bought last October at Clair, N.B.

The companies plan to spend $30 million building a poultry slaughtering, cutting and deboning plant that would supply the entire Maritimes region.

The added land is meant to provide space for truck traffic and make for easier access to the plant. The two buildings are to be used as annexes, Sunnymel said Wednesday.

A garage is to be built for maintenance work on trucks bringing birds to the plant, while the second building will be able to house live birds arriving at the plant, the companies said.

“We believe that 2010 will mark the end of obstacles to the project, which will benefit the entire region,” Thomas Soucy, CEO of New Brunswick-based Westco, said in the companies’ release.

Said “obstacles” include a provincial order in January that designated Nadeau Poultry Farm, a subsidiary of Ontario meat company Maple Lodge, as the lone federally-inspected plant for processing of chickens raised in New Brunswick.

The province’s order blocked Sunnymel from shipping Westco chickens out of New Brunswick to be slaughtered at Olymel facilities in Quebec, as the two companies arranged to do while work continues on the Clair project.

The Sunnymel partners, who criticized the ministerial order as “invalid and unconstitutional,” reportedly plan to challenge it in a New Brunswick court.

To try to meet the terms of Agriculture Minister Ron Ouellette’s order in the meantime, the Sunnymel companies in January said they’d proposed a “contract-kill” arrangement with Nadeau.

The Sunnymel proposal called for Nadeau to process the birds, then return the finished product to Sunnymel for marketing and distribution.

But Nadeau has rejected that offer, Sunnymel said, to which Ouellette responded in late January that Nadeau and Westco must come to a mutually acceptable arrangement — and until then, the province would not intervene further.

Ouellette said at the time he would “reiterate my offer of mediation and, again, strongly encourage the companies to do the responsible thing and resolve this commercial dispute that is hindering the process that government has enabled and disregarding the needs of the workers.”

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