GOULDSBORO, Maine — A deal to sell a former local sardine cannery to a Massachusetts firm has finally been completed, officials with Bumble Bee Foods indicated Wednesday.
Officials with Chelsea, Mass.-based Live Lobster have been trying to buy the former sardine cannery from Bumble Bee since last summer. Almost two weeks ago, Live Lobster issued a statement saying it had completed its purchase of the waterfront facility, which is located in the local village of Prospect Harbor. Up until late Wednesday, however, Bumble Bee representatives were saying the deal was not yet complete.
Chris Lischewski, president and CEO of Bumble Bee, issued a statement Wednesday evening congratulating Live Lobster on the completion of the sale, financial terms for which have not been disclosed.
“We are pleased to finalize today the sale of our former Prospect Harbor/Stinson facility to Live Lobster Co.,” Lischewski said in the prepared, three-sentence statement. “This brings to a conclusion our part in the efforts to transition the plant to a new owner-operator and to help create new opportunities for the people and community of Prospect Harbor, Maine. We wish Live Lobster Co. and the community of Prospect Harbor every success.”
Despite the delay, officials with the two companies and with the town had indicated before Wednesday that they were unfazed by the conflicting statements because all were in agreement that the deal was moving ahead and was expected to be completed soon.
That confidence was evident Tuesday night when Live Lobster representatives submitted a permit application to the planning board to renovate the defunct cannery. Peter Colson, the former cannery manager for Bumble Bee who has been maintaining the waterfront building since it was shut down last April, and Al West, Bumble Bee’s former fish buyer who now has been hired in the same capacity by Live Lobster, presented the application to the planning board.
In the materials they gave the board was a copy of a deed that indicates that Prospect Harbor Properties LLC, a subsidiary of Live Lobster, is the new owner of the plant. The company plans to operate in Gouldsboro as Lobster Web Company LLC, Colson and West told the board.
The Lobster Web officials and town officials said Tuesday that, barring any further delays in submitting information to the town, a public hearing and possible planning board vote on the application will be held at 6 p.m., April 5, at the local town office in Prospect Harbor.
The planning board did not go over the submitted materials in detail on Tuesday night, but Chairman Ray Jones did tell Colson that the company would have to provide the names and mailing addresses of every landowner within 1,000 feet of the property. Colson said he would obtain that information and provide it to the town as soon as possible.
Town officials, including Code Enforcement Officer John Fuhrman, told Colson and West they could proceed with interior renovations that do not affect the footprint of the building because permits are not required for such work. A planned new exterior concrete pad for a compressor does need to be permitted by the town before it can be installed, they said.
Planning board members noted that the new cannery owner has provided them with more information than the town requires and that each member would review the permit application on his or her time before the board meets again on March 15. Colson indicated he would attend the March 15 meeting to answer any questions the board may have.
Antonio Bussone, the president of Live Lobster, was not at Tuesday’s meeting but has said that the company hopes to get all the necessary permits and renovations completed at the site in time for the approaching lobster-fishing season, which typically begins in earnest in late spring. Bussone has said the firm hopes to hire up to 40 people for its lobster-buying and bait-selling operations this summer.
Bussone has indicated that the company plans to expand into the lobster processing business at the former sardine plant, which employed 128 people and was the last of its kind in the United States when Bumble Bee decided to shut it down last year. At the time, Bumble Bee blamed reductions in federal catch limits on herring — as sardines are known before being canned — on its decision to close the plant.
Area officials and residents have said that the loss of the sardine cannery jobs in Gouldsboro have had a significant impact on the local economy, but Bussone has said that the company could employ 100 or more people in its local lobster processing operations within the next couple of years.
Outside of Gouldsboro, Live Lobster employs between 80 and 90 people at its lobster buying and exporting facilities in Maine and Massachusetts.