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With the ease of a man no longer bound to mask the truth, Agriculture Minister Charhe Power told reporters the day he quit the Newfoundland cabinet that the province's futuristic greenhouse scheme had de into a commercial fiasco.
After absorbing $18.5 million in government assistance and producing 8.5 acres of dead cucumber plants, the Sprung greenhouse (Newfoundland Enviroponics Ltd.) looks like the most absurd boondoggle to hit Newfoundland since Liberal Pren-der Joey Smallwood dotted the island with chocolate factories and rubber boot plants.
The project swept into Newfoundland in a flood of high-tech promises. Philip Sprung's operation, however did not once meet production quotas, ignored operating budgets and failed to tum a profit. Greenhouse managers who vowed to produce 135,000 pounds of vegetables a week couldn't harvest more than 70,000 pounds and then couldn't find adequate markets for their modest crop.
Freed from the daily control of the government, the hydroponic firm quickly racked up some staggering expenses. When a royal tour arrived in the province last summer, Newfoundland Enviro onics spent $10,100 on dressing Prince Edward and his entourage in nylon jumpsuits and joggers. And when a massive. crop failure closed the greenhouse this winter, managers kept operating the facility's orange lights at a cost of 7,000 a day in order to melt snow off the greenhouse roof. In a year of operations, greenhouse managers spent a total of $25.5 million on a venture that was dearly out of control.
By the end of February, cabinet ministers left to cope with the Sprung catastrophe openly insisted the govemment find a new operator for the facility or close it down. And while Premier Peckford denies any connection, the timming of his resignation in late January after 10 years at the helm was conveniently timed.
An overzealous government, Power revealed, had plunged into the multi-million donar project without ever conducting studies of any kind to determine ff a glowing, plastic greenhouse on the edge of the North Atlantic could yield record crops or reasonable profits.
It all began in early 1987 when Premier Brian Peckford returned from a trip to Westem Canada in early 1987 to tell his cabinet how the Jolly Green Giant of Calgary" Philip Sprung - could supply the province with seven million …