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Maritime Steel owner selling home, business after roadblocks prevent restart

STELLARTON – Abbas Jafarnia’s house in Stellarton is mostly covered in old siding and unflattering Tyvek wrap. But you should never judge a book by its cover.

Maritime Steel owner Abbas Jafarnia stands in front of his Stellarton home, which was recently put up for sale. Jafarnia is selling the dormant, century-old foundry in New Glasgow and exploring employment possibilities overseas after years of trying to restart the business. JOHN BRANNEN – THE NEWS

Inside are all the latest amenities that a family could desire. Jafarnia feels the same way about Maritime Steel.


“One man in the foundry business told me, ‘Abbas, you have the Rolls Royce of foundries with this equipment,’” he said. “You wouldn’t know that from the outside of the building.”


Jafarnia was directed by the Town of New Glasgow to repair some wooden fences along Glasgow Street that had been destroyed by vandals. While there have been break-and-enters and vandalism before, this may be the last investment the struggling owner makes in the dormant foundry.


At the end of his driveway is a ‘For Sale’ sign and, according to Jafania, the same goes for Maritime Steel and all the equipment inside.


“I’ve tried for so long to get it going only to have roadblocks every step of the way,” he said. “I have my own life and family to take care of. We’re going and not looking back now.”


After meeting with potential employers in Europe, the United Stated and China, Jafarnia has concluded that without the local political will and support for Maritime Steel, the endeavour is stalled. Working and environmental permits have lapsed and expired.


While discussions with provincial and federal politicians have been promising in the last six months, the transition to concrete support has yet to be shown.


“They need to act not talk. They’ve been talking for years.”


Frustrated, Jafarnia sent a letter to Pictou County’s municipal and business leaders citing examples of other communities in Canada that have come together politically and experienced positive economic growth. Winkler in Manitoba and his old hometown of Saguenay, Que., were noted.


“As someone who has been in an uphill battle to restart a sustainable business in your area, I should say there is no teamwork spirit in Pictou County at all,” he wrote. “It's a sad story, but it's the truth.”


He cited the closure of TrentonWorks, Nova Forge and Maritime Steel along with the recent cuts to Michelin and Convergys in Pictou County.


“Thousands of people lost their jobs, yet no action has been taken to stop our losses. Your only option is to support one another, not moving businesses from one side to another and call it development.”


In response to Jafarnia’s letter Mayor Barrie MacMillan said he respects that all citizens have individual opinions and it’s their right to communicate them. He pointed however to the co-operation that is taking place between the municipalities such as the Memorandum of Understanding with the Muncipality of Picotu County and town of Pictou.


“There are currently many shared services taking place within the region of Pictou County and this is a high degree of cooperation on several aspects of municipal operations. More opportunities are currently being explored,” he said. “The Town of New Glasgow has studied the Ivany Report closely and believe it is of great value. We are working together with all orders of government and the community to address the current economic challenges facing our region.”


The lack of support from the Town of New Glasgow may have been one hurdle but another was half a world away. Canadian sanctions against Iran restricted the flow of any money between investors in Iran and Maritime Steel.


“If there hadn’t been sanctions, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now and at least 50 people would be at work in Maritime steel.”


Reflecting on the ‘what ifs’ does little for the former employees of Maritime Steel. Some moved out West while other stayed, holding hope that Jafarnia would get the foundry going again.


Earl Crosby worked at Maritime Steel starting in 1974. He and half a dozen other workers remained in the county hoping that Jafarnia would be able to restart the century-old foundry. News that he would be selling the company and moving was hard for the workers to hear.


“We were trying to keep Abbas here but everything seems to come to a head,” said Crosby. “He can’t wait around anymore for the right people to step in and help.”


Crosby, who is approaching age 65, said there are no opportunities for that kind of long-term work in New Glasgow any more.


“It’s getting desperate now. It hasn’t been easy for the older guys to leave their families and homes to go out west to work but there’s no other option.”


Still, Crosby still hopes that the Rolls-Royce equipment will catch the eye of another potential investor willing to stick their neck out on Maritime Steel.


“Right now, the foundry business is a booming market. There’s lots of work to do, but we need the funds and backing. It’s a darn shame to lose Abbas but there has to be a backer out there.”


The fading torch of Maritime Steel now passes to someone else, if at all. Jafarnia said he did his best.


“If you can’t change your environment, change your place. That’s what my family and I are going to do.”


On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn

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