Happy Valley-Goose Bay is not ready for the population boom that will come from construction of the Muskrat Falls hydro development.
That was the general concensus of those who showed up to a public meeting last week hosted by the Town Council of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Dozens of residents crammed into the room to listen, and offer their opinions.
Some of the speakers were in favour of the project; others were dead set against it. But most seemed to agree that Goose Bay is not yet ready for the population boom. Many pointed out that the province or the town will have to upgrade services and infrastructure to accommodate a growing population.
"This meeting is intended to point out what people are thinking in terms of impacts and mitigation," said town planner Ilene Watson. "At this point it's very opened ended. We want people to feel free to bring their ideas forward."
One of the examples mentioned was the lack of recreation facilities in Goose Bay. Right now, the town has just one ice hockey rink and one swimming pool. Those facilities are hardly enough to accommodate the current population of the town, let alone thousands more in the future.
John Hickey, former MHA for the area, said the province should provide new facilities for the town.
"The timing could never be better. This request has already been put to the province for an Olympic-sized swimming pool with all the bells and whistles," says Hickey.
Local resident Kerry Rideout also spoke about the need for more recreational facilities. Rideout is the coach of a swim team and he plays in a men's hockey league at the EJ Broomfield Arena.
"We are maxed out now in our recreational facilities here," says Rideout. "We have an arena that is booked until 12 o'clock at night. I play in a men's league. We got seven teams, can't expand. The women are trying to get hockey, no time for them...we got people lining up two hours ahead of time for swimming lessons. I can not grow a swim club ... we max out at 34 swimmers and three lanes."
Many people also have concerns about road conditions and the amount of traffic in Goose Bay. Some of those at the meeting expressed concerned that certain areas would become bottlenecked with traffic as the town grows. There are also worries of road conditions, especially on the main stretch, becoming worse with increased traffic.
"We've got a nice bit of traffic on our roads but you can look at the dips in Hamilton River Road ... that's only with a little bit of heavy equipment going back and forth over it," said resident Pat Loder.
The Town's communications resource was another issue raised in the meeting. With the current population, Internet and cell phone service is already strained. Although Bell Aliant's FibreOp services are scheduled to be operating in the spring, people are wondering what affect more people will have on the services.
"In August we had no issue. We all had our cell phones, we could talk we could text, it wasn't an issue," said Loder. " All of a sudden, we don't have that. We've got dropped calls; we've got slow texts. It gets very frustrating."
Wayne Sheppard, representing the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"There's a lot of strain on the cell phone system. It's going to get to get a lot worse."
Social issues were also brought to the table at the meeting. Many residents feel that the cost of owning or renting a home is already too high. There are concerns that those costs will only increase when more people, and more money, come into the community.
"You can't even get a two bedroom place right now for $1,200 a month," said concerned resident Jennifer Hefler-Elson. "Who's going to be able to afford to pay it (when rent goes up)? I know a lot of people wouldn't be able to pay it. My children wouldn't be able to pay it."
"Whatever the Town can do to control the rising cost of land, I encourage them to do so," said another Goose Bay resident Hollis Yetman.
Mayor Leo Abbass said he and other Council members have been talking with developers about lowering residential land prices. Since municipalities can't sell land directly to residents, the Town and developers have to cooperate when it comes to residential properties.
"We've been trying to work with developers to keep land prices down," says Abbass.
Some residents who spoke criticized the Town Council for not having this meeting sooner, before the project was sanctioned. But Abbass told the crowd that the town has been talking with province for a while about the major issues.
"You might think it's late starting the process," said Abbass. "But we've raised 98% of the issues (that we're mentioned at the meeting) with the province. A lot of groundwork has been done, a lot of consultation has been had."
The mayor says the town will continue to work with the province to try to mitigate the inevitable changes that will occur. The province also plans to bring in a consultant at some point to assess the impacts.