In a recent meeting between Premier Kathy Dunderdale and Kiewit CEO Bruce Grewcock, she asked him a direct question: are you committed to running the Marystown shipyard?
Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy, who was also in on the meeting, told media in St. John's Wednesday the premier was polite but to the point.
"The premier, politely but firmly put it to the CEO: what is the level of commitment? Are you interested in maintaining the shipyard in Marystown?"
Kiewit had indicated it could only build one of the modules for the Hebron offshore oil platform at its Marystown facility - instead of two.
The province's other major industrial fabrication site - Bull Arm - is also tied up constructing another Hebron module. That means there's a third module that will now likely have to be constructed outside the province.
Mr. Kennedy estimated that means a $60 million to $100 million project that potentially won't be done in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"There's a lot of work in this province right now in shipbuilding. We were concerned that maybe Kiewit weren't as interested in the work, as opposed to trying to straighten up issues within their own shipyard and to improve quality and productivity."
Mr. Kennedy indicated Mr. Grewcock assured them Kiewit is, in fact, interested in running Marystown for the long haul. It just couldn't handle two large modules at the same time.
This isn't the first time the issue of Kiewit's commitment to Marystown has come into question. Opposition critic Yvonne Jones pointed out that last year the company backed out of a federal shipbuilding contract because it was too busy, only to lay off hundreds of workers a short time later.
"We are going to see some of this work going outside, and for me that's not acceptable. I'm not prepared to buy into the argument that everyone is too busy, and so this work has to leave Newfoundland and Labrador."
NDP leader Lorraine Michael also questioned the government's planning in this situation.
"The Tories have now been in for eight years, and where is their planning with regard to building a workforce and preparing communities to be part of the oil and gas industry?"
Kiewit declined to do an interview, but sent a brief statement, saying: "As we have consistently stated, we are actively pursuing work for the Marystown yard. Any questions specific to Hebron need to be directed to Exxon Mobil."
A spokeswoman for Exxon said it has invited expressions of interest in doing the work in Newfoundland and Labrador. Depending on whether anyone comes forward, it will make a decision on the third module some time in the next few days.
St. John's Telegram