Turning away from the facts doesn’t mean they don’t exist

Little kids are so darn cute when they cover their eyes, or even just close their eyes, and play you can’t see me. And we play along with them, because it is so cute and they are having fun with us, and they are making us happy. But they do outgrow this game. They come, at some point fairly early on, to the proper conclusion that we can in fact see them, no matter what their silly little joy may have meant before. I can guess with ease this point of awareness is most likely resulted from the times they try to hide, by closing or covering their eyes, and it doesn’t work. Likely at a moment when hiding is the solution to a difficult situation for their little minds.

What is not so cute is when grown adults, such as government officials with specific responsibilities choose the play the game of peekaboo with the public. I liken Nova Scotia governments to these little children, fighting with all their might to not know about troubling or obvious issues. If they close their eyes, plug their ears, avoid the area, they never have to acknowledge the issue. And then when they do not respond with an appropriate solution, because…there is nothing to solve, they can claim ignorance.

In a prior post, it was the classroom conditions, which have deteriorated over several governments over several years, but it was this government who during negotiations tried their hardest to ignore the teachers’ demands for improvements.

In this post…. let’s talk about the environment.

A lot of the current environmental issues in Nova Scotia are not within our scope. They are distant from our everyday movements for the most part, and out of sight, means out of mind for most things. Many times, they are in remote communities we do not pass by the main highways, or they are sheltered from our view by a swatch of trees left standing to obstruct our views. The old adage, out of sight, out of mind, is a natural element of the unknown devastation to our environment. That is a common issue, and in fact the origins of the phrase date back to the 13th century, telling us, that is they way things have been forever. Government and their corporate cohorts rely on a narrow view, or a limited interest in what is happening to the environment. They hope people are disinterested in what they are doing, due to distance, or due to lack of time to bother looking into things. They hope they can ignore the naysayers, or local opposition long enough to proceed and by the time the damage is done, in many cases, they have moved on.

Communities all over Nova Scotia are trying to attract attention to each of their situations, because the only way to get through to government is to have an impact on the stability of the elected political will. People from every walk of life, are struggling to keep up their fights, while managing their everyday lives. Elected political figures will talk about what they do know about the situation, or what they are willing to talk about, as if they know everything there is to know. But most times, they have listened to a brief, or read a summation, hardly entitling them to expert status. And they are neither scientist, nor (most often) have they lived or worked in the area or the industry. What also continues to disenfranchise the public when dealing with government on the environment, as well as other issues, is government’s ability to ignore the public perspective. There is a level of “we’re the experts, and you’re NIMBYs” in dealing with the NSE department staff, and especially with certain ministers. Most of the time, Ministers will avoid the public altogether.

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1. In Fall River, a fight that started in December 2011, was recognized by an earlier government, as the proposed quarry there, did not meet zoning and would be a negative imposition on nearby residential neighborhoods. The current government refused to make any statements on the quarry prior to the election, and it was discovered after they were elected that they were supportive of the quarry. They actually approved it without following procedural requirements to consult with the public; it was subsequently revoked. The government blindly accepted the initial submissions from the proponent without regard for Federal regulations against quarries next to the the runway of an international airport, blasting next to to a main arterial highway that sees upwards of 55,000 cars per day, blasting next a 12 inch high pressure natural gas pipeline, with up to 28,000 kgs of explosives. Staff at NS Environment have admitted to giving preference to studies provided by the proponent, over independent experts who have drawn a grave list of risks if this project were to proceed. When the quarry footprint was excavated and scraped, Google Earth provided evidence this was done in the months prior to the temporary approval, but the proponent stated it was done after the approval was issued. And NSE accepted that. They have ignored every submission made by the public that proves otherwise.

When a complaint was filed about the decimation of the wetlands outside of the footprint (and the 3.99 hectare applicable area), NSE first treated the complainant as the wrongdoer. She was browbeaten by an NSE staffer over the telephone, and advised that they would see whether they would investigate or not. Shortly thereafter a notice came that the investigation had been discontinued. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests provided evidence, that no official investigation had been opened. No notice of appeal options or deadlines, nor protocols were supplied, and when NSE staff were questioned on this, they simply responded that she could have appealed, but the deadline had passed. Residents have tried to communicate with NSE staff and the Minster but are normally ignored, or put off by non-responsive letters on policy and department efforts. After five + years, the fight continues.

In five years, the staff at NSE have met with the residents once, just prior to the 5 year anniversary. One Minister, out of the four that have dealt with this proposed quarry has met with public, only to tell them that they were NIMBYs. The proposed quarry would be situated to tender a bid on the contentious and inappropriate concept of a toll highway from Porter’s Lake to Burnside. The government’s propensity for accommodating this particular proponent has overstepped the bounds of logic and possibly even the law. But to ignore or dismiss every expert report, without concern, but rather characterized incorrectly as NIMBY, is derelict.

2. The forests of Nova Scotia are becoming an endangered thing. As recent announcements revealed, the future of our forests have been left to a private industry partnership, made up of the forestry industry and several mills from both this province and Quebec. Immediately, it was decided that a huge swatch of crown land, almost the same size as Prince Edward Island, will be clear cut. The public have been screaming for years to stop clear cutting the forests here, to ban clear cutting. Experts have detailed impacts and effects of this practice at great lengths in article after report after study.

The forests are transitioning from an Acadian Forest of mixed hardwoods and softwoods, and is being replaced by mono-culture pulp farms or forests of fast growing and non-sturdy wire birch and alders or the likes. The mulicoloured fall leaves and the health of our air quality are all in jeopardy, as young trees do not filter the carbon in our air as easily and somewhat hungrily as the more mature and fully grown forest will. Our wildlife is at risk as its habitat is removed en masse. We have heard stories about a black bear found lying in a clearing trying to hibernate, and most likely at risk of succumbing to the environment without their natural shelter. Our water table and wetlands are at risk as the ground is exposed to dehydrate and the wetlands are unable to filter the water due tot heir destruction or over burden. Our rivers and lakes are at risk from silt run off as the forest floors are destabilized without their forest cover to protect them.

Clear cuts are a real concern to most Nova Scotians, and the use of this method of harvest is known to be harmful. It is a cost factor that drives forestry operators to use this method for wood supply, but even more troubling is the destination for these invaluable natural resources. They will be used for biomass, which is is supposed to be waste wood, and is the dirtiest energy source known to man, even dirtier than coal. It is also extremely inefficient. Or they will be used for pulp to make toilet paper or timber. the revenues generated by the province in allowing the mills to clear cut, make private woodlots less valuable and leaving private owners who rely on their woodlots for income with no option but to clear cut in order to make an income. The government of Nova Scotia has refused to accept expert studies or international criticisms of the clear cutting practice, favouring instead the operators’ supporting science. The use of our lands, the public.s lands for these purposes, against the will of the public, and at the detriment to the health of the public is repulsive. Even in the face of widespread outcry, and pleas from the public to ban such operations, the government is choosing to turn a blind eye.

Nova Scotia’s Acadian Forest is considered at risk as the clear cutting continues, taking everything in its path by the hundreds of thousands of hectares every year.

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3. A gravely concerning aspect of our modern forestry operations is the use of glyphosate on previously clear cut forests, to prevent the growth of hardwood trees, in favour of deciduous trees that will be of value to the pulp farms. Glyphosate in combination with with its surfactants (active agents that make the herbicide work) have been found in studies to be carcinogenic, or cancer causing. The impacts on wildlife, ground water and our lakes and rivers, as well as the mono-culture results in our forests are without benefit to the public.  The government of Nova Scotia has chosen to ignore expert studies published to date, and rather than use the precautionary principle¹ in decision making, have determined, if someone, somewhere (anywhere) else is saying this is okay, we do too, regardless of mass public outcry against it. Again, the public are just not experts, even though they are capable of reading expert reports. In nearby New Brunswick a biologist has been very outspoken about the impacts on deer populations. The Chief Medical Officer there, was suddenly relieved of her position while writing a report on the use of the chemical. Amazingly, the NS Minister of Environment and all of her staff were able to read and hear the supporting documentation on the chemical, released by the manufacturer, but were not able to locate any of the other numerous reports that call for a complete ban.

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4. Alta Gas, who owns Heritage Gas and now Alton Gas, is proposing to draw water from the Shubenacadie River, pipe it underground for 11 kms, turn it down to a salt dome located 1 km underground, and carve out two caverns, each the size of a 25 story high rise, using the water to dissolve the salt, in a brining process, and then pump the water out of the caverns, and pipe it back 11 kms underground to be released into the river. Area residents are not in favour of having such a storage facility in their community, due to the growing examples of natural gas leaks and explosions all over North America, as well as the fact that this project provides no benefit to most Nova Scotians, especially those living immediate to the storage facility site. Just as troubling is the dumping of brine into the historic Shubenacadie River. The First Nation community of Sipekne’katik, supported by the chiefs of all the First Nations in Nova Scotia, have spoken out against this operation in protection of the river and its surrounding environment. They have fought through the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to have their concerns heard, and have won a demand for meaningful consultation. The Premier, who is Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in Nova Scotia, chose to  ignore the requests by the the community and did not intercede when it was his job to do so. He has also allowed the one lawyer in Nova Scotia, who has offended every First Nation’s member with his racist and demeaning characterizations of indigenous rights, to represent the province in the courts, entering an inflammatory and offensive argument that once again was intended to demean the First Nations. Again, as in all other cases, only the proponent’s word was considered concerning environmental impacts, and again the Precautionary Principle was set aside.

One incredibly charming aspect to this story is the fact that the caverns have begun proving themselves not to be viable and the  river appears to be healing itself. Two out of four wells drilled have shown the cavern process is not going to be secure or possible. The channel created in the bank of the river, has filled in with the river’s mud. The pipes meant to take and then release the water are full of mud, and it appears the Shubenacadie River is telling us humans, we do not understand its power; Alta Gas obviously didn’t have the engineering right. But both Alta Gas and the NS Government have maintained a status of everything is going according to plan.

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5. Tidal Energy in the Bay of Fundy is essentially taking the living resource and turning it into a machine. Local fishers all over the Bay have spoken out, demanding further baseline data and monitoring be implemented in the development of Tidal Energy. In November 2016, as the first tidal turbine was placed and connected to the grid, the fishermen, were still calling on government, specifically NSE to implement better controls, monitoring and studies.  The same day the Turbine was ceremoniously turned on, herring by the hundreds and thousands started dying on beaches and in the water around Yarmouth, St Mary’s Bay and Annapolis Basin and continued to do so for the next month.

The fishermen, First Nations, as well as many in the general public demanded the turbine be turned off. They asked that it be eliminated as a cause in this sudden and unprecedented occurrence. It was too coincidental that these fish started dying the same day the turbine was activated and the two were not related. The Minister of Energy, responded to requests on his Facebook Page, by hitting the delete button. Members of the public who emailed the Minister were never responded to. Fisheries officers were placed in front of the media repeatedly to state it was not the turbine, even though there was no evidence or indication proving such statements, nor was any other cause determined. After several tests were completed on the dead fish, it was determined this was not a natural cause, but the officials continued to declare, it was not the turbine.

Theories based on other science available were offered as a request for study. they included the noise form the turbine sent the herrings into a bay were they suffocated due to the high numbers using up the oxygen too quickly, electromagnetism in the water….

As the Spring run for herring approaches, it is a wait and see time right now, to determine how much damage was done to the herring population, whether the same impacts will show themselves this season, and whether the cessation of dead herring on shore was due to the population either being killed off or escaping.

7. For 50 years, the Pictou County pulp mill has operated day and night, aside from shutting down for annual maintenance. In 2015, the Province renewed the Industrial Approval for the mill, until 2020. Currently the mill claims to employs 330 people, but they have also made claims that they provide direct and indirect employment to thousands. The Mill was built to last 25 years. They produce pulp, for the manufacture of toilet paper. They are one of the biggest users of Nova Scotia forest products, and have been responsible for clear cuts all over the province, both on private and on crown lands. The emissions released from the mill have shown over the years to be at alarming rates much higher than permitted. Particulate matter 2.5, which is know to enter the lungs and stay there when inhaled were at one point registering at 336900% about the limit for emissions. A precipitator installed at the expense of the taxpayers was installed, but still air quality is poor. Residents spoke often of waking in the morning in Summer 2016 with burning eyes nose and throats.

For 50 years as well, the effluent (waste water) from the mill, has been sent to the Boat Harbour via an underground pipeline 4 kms away. 50 years ago and awful trick was pulled on the First Nations community of Pictou Landing, when the band councilors were told the water released into Boat Harbour would be so clean you could drink it. (A tour was given of a similar facility in New Brunswick by the key proponents, and the councilors were given “proof” when a cup was produced and dipped into the waters there and drank up. It was not known until much later, that that facility was not yet functioning and so was not evidence to the process.)

The waste water, that was supposed to be so clean you could drink it, has contaminated the estuary for 50 years. Fish died, rashes were contracted and the water was dark and warm. Even the temperature of the water without all of the contaminates would change the aquaculture instantaneously, but the chemicals and heavy metals and “trade secret” have made the water unsafe. But government refuses to link the cancer and respiratory issues that chart Pictou County at higher rates than anywhere in Nova Scotia and Canada in some instances.Evidence has been gathered and reports written and in a study in 2005, healthy shellfish placed in the water in Pictou Harbour  contracted leukemia.

As far as treatment…. having visited the facility myself, I call bullshit. 90 Million litres of waster water flow into a settling pond daily, and would therefore flow out daily. The only signs of treatment were first, the few tablets of a fertilizer or neutralizer that are dribbled into the the waste water as it rushes past by the many thousands of litres per minute, and then the oxygen that is added in the lagoon which reduces the noxious gag inducing fumes, a little bit. Oxygen encourages bacterial growth too, but it is a mystery to me how this process helps in this situation, when again the water enters the lagoon at 90 Million litres per day over a consistent and permanent flow. Nothing wold have time to grow or neutralize. Think about this, the actual pollution rates (Per litre perhaps) are reduced by increasing dilution. So nothing is actual reduced, it just doesn’t measure as high because instead of 70 Million litres, they use 90 Million litres…..

Anger inducing knowledge surrounds the current chair of the board at the Mill, as he was a very supportive and generous Premier, granting and funding the mill and extending the lease at Boat Harbour to 2030, prior to taking a pay cheque from the pulp company.

The list of issues is long, and many of these issues are repeated. Fracking, straight pipes,  landfills and management of our crown (public) lands are also very much on the list. And the story is the same in every situation. Government works with industry, ignores the public, and the environment suffers. at the end of it if the environment suffers, we suffer. Our only hope to gain traction and induce political will, is to force these issues into the political eye. Don’t let them turn away, or ignore this. The issues will never go away just because they pretend they do not exist. Talk, share, write and continue to do so until they stop creating these messes, and until they clean up the ones that exist.

¹Precautionary Principle – denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. This principle has been codified in several international treaties to which Canada is a signatory. Domestic law makes reference to this principle but implementation remains limited. It is written into the Nova Scotia Environment Act. Often it appears, it is set aside in favour of industrial or agricultural endeavors.

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