There is something just simply bizarre that happens to people who get elected (and sometimes even those just trying to get elected) to government, in Nova Scotia. It is troubling, and needs to be assessed. I am not sure if it is a naturally occurring syndrome of obstinance and ignorance, or if it is key piece of the individuals’ true character, or even if it is a result of a lack of will or a back bone, or a combination of both. There is evidence of an ability to keep talking when one should shut up, and to say things that are so completely misrepresented, that those on the receiving end are often simply flabbergasted, and rendered almost speechless or enraged.
There is also a hint of what might be delusion or just a blatant propensity to lie. It isn’t easy to differentiate. This is the case, as was observed on Sunday, May 7, 2017 at the Harrietsfield Williamswood Community Centre. Residents and their supporters had gathered for a rally, meant to update, inform and raise support for the community in their continuing battle for safe drinking water.
I have written about this issue previously, and it has received a lot of coverage over the years, most recently being one case among several, that instigated an advocacy conglomerate’s creation of an Environmental Bill of Rights, and a Civil action against the owners of the contaminated site. https://onenotsoboredhousewife.ca/2017/04/23/a-right-to-freedom-from-harm/
The area has been hampered with drinking water issues for decades, starting with uranium exploration in the area in the 1970s, but more recently with the burying of construction and demolition waste on a property in the middle of a residential area. Many naturally occurring heavy metals already present in the ground, were mobilized and exacerbated by the leaching that occurred from the waste. There are 120,000 tons of non-recyclable C & D waste buried in a cell there. There is no evidence that the cell was ever lined, and the engineered system that was supposed to capture leachate from the buried waste, has never worked.
RDM Recycling Limited (Photo credit CBC)
Marlene Brown, who has been leading the charge in this community issue for several years now gave a rundown of the long and latest history on this issue to a large crowd that showed up to give their support. She went over the many illnesses, especially cancers, experienced in the community that have also caused death and continue to cause emotional hurt. She even talked about Blue, a precious pet dog who was present at the meeting, who lost his sibling right before Christmas and who himself has had tumors removed, while also suffering from lip cancer that cannot be cured.
As Marlene wound down her presentation, the room erupted in discussion, and questions, mainly directed toward the incumbent candidate for the provincial election coming up at the end of the month. Brendan Maguire has been the area’s Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) since October 2013. He was at the meeting and may have created more displeasure from the community with what he had to say. Although the local councillor, Steve Adams was not at the meeting, he did not evade finger pointing any better than Maguire did, and in fact was victim to Maguire’s pointing finger as well.
It is difficult to express the exact discussion without this article turning into a novel , as it has several complexities, so I am going to tackle this with a sort of point by point overview, that I hope will make clear the injustice and blatantly neglectful way this community has been treated and especially assist those in doubt, in understanding the obnoxious and ire inducing behaviour of the incumbent.
How many homes are impacted?
In the meeting, people asked why only eight homes were being offered a temporary and not guaranteed, solution to their water issues. Mr. Maguire repeatedly stated, “There is a process in place, and if people’s wells are impacted, they need to call the Department of Environment.”
Well, NS Environment already knows which homes they have had test results for since 2003. They know who they sent letters to in 2006, telling the residents they had concerns about the test results and advising them not to drink their water. Based on the known issues, NS Environment, honestly, should be going door to door to inform the residents that there are serious and long standing concerns, and offer to test their water, and perhaps gather actual statistics.
There was a report early on in this fight that pointed at 83 homes, where there were concerns about their water. Over the years, more than a decade so far, that number was whittled down repeatedly, to 43, then 18 and now eight. This parsing of the numbers was done by either the NS Environment Department or the Minister of Environment or the local MLA, depending on the timeline. It has been noted that in media reports the impacted became fewer and fewer every time this issue received any attention. Why? Based on the facts in this case I have a couple of different observations. First, based on a lack of testing over the years, beyond those 83 homes first counted, we do not know really, how many homes are impacted. Then, based on the deaths of some of the residents, we are not sure if their homes have been taken off the list, along with their names, and perhaps the new residents were never consulted, or more importantly, informed. It appears some of the reduction is due to defining the cause and whether NS Environment has been willing to conclude these other homes were impacted the same way those still on the list were impacted. But the infuriating part is when an MLA or the Minister, or the councillor get on the radio, or talk to the newspaper, and cite these numbers, as if that was all that was ever an issue. It is a tactic, to undermine the severity and the devastation this community continues to endure. It is simply dishonest.
What has the incumbent done about this issue when he was MLA?
Maguire claims he has been talking multiple times with the Mayor, the Councilor and Council. A cursory search of council minutes, shows there is no record of council discussing the water issue in Harrietsfield since October 2013 when Mr. Maguire became an MLA, except for one motion made by Councillor Adams in November 2016, asking for staff to prepare a report for a committee to see if it is possible to pay for the purchase, installation and maintenance of 8 systems. In fact this is the only example other than a separate rezoning issue and an area rate amendment when Harrietsfield was discussed by council at all since 2002, when the site in question was originally being rezoned.
What is wrong with the water?
The cell contains 120,000 tons of waste from old demolished buildings. The cell mound is the size of the local elementary school, which also has contaminated water. The residents know that an old hospital is buried there among other things. That old hospital was demolished when it was deemed unfit. One resident in attendance stated she worked at a hospital and it was the sickest building in Canada, and outlined health issues that continue to impact the people who worked in the building. She spoke too about the noxious smell that is emanating from the site. Knowing what they know, especially this day in age, she told Maguire, there is no need to pretend we don’t know how this is impacting health especially through the water, of the area residents. Testing showed unfathomable levels of heavy metals in the water, including aluminum, uranium, lead, cadmium, boron, arsenic, etc. Maguire was quick to point out these are all naturally occurring issues. Marlene Brown was just as efficient in explaining, for the one millionth time, that yes, while these things are naturally occurring in ground water, they are mobilized, exacerbated or activated due to the additional contamination of the site. NS Environment staff had been called out to the site to investigate the smell. They told the residents there was no smell. Charcoal fills the vent pipes in the cell, to try to diminish the smell.
What is known about the the site’s impact is limited, as there are no current tests, but what is known, is that the system that was supposed to be engineered for the site to prevent leachate from leaving the site, has never worked. There is supposed to be a liner in the cell, to protect the surrounding environment. There is no evidence a liner was ever installed. The system was supposed to capture an estimated 250 gallons of leachate daily. That would need to be pumped out and treated and disposed of. No leachate has been pumped out of the system. 250 gallons, per day, every day for 13 plus years = at least 1.2 million gallons of leachate has been released directly into the environment.
Ignorance is bliss
Maguire kept stating he has spoken to Marlene Brown repeatedly on this issue. She spoke about the meeting in February, where she and another resident met with Maguire, Councillor Adams and NSE staff. She stated she had to provide the evidence there was an issue with the water. This fact of the residents needing to “prove” there is a problem in 2017, when the department is well aware of the issues and has been in court hearing after court hearing since 2010 with the owners and operators of the site, and has had successful outcomes in the courts upholding the ministerial orders, because of the issues with the water, makes me so incredibly angry and inspires a desire to see people go to jail.
Marlene Brown asked Maguire what he did with the information she provided, he responded that he has passed it on to NSE – even though NSE was in the room and received the same information? Marlene asked him to confirm, he passed it on? He said yes, well he read it and he passed it on. He kept trying to reiterate that he has spoken to her several times. She stated she has not heard from him since February.
Also, remember when I explained above that Councillor Adams had already made a motion in council, asking staff to report to a committee about 8 systems? Why’d he do that if it was still not proven there was even an issue.
And it has been stated by various officials, including a former Minister of Environment and Councillor Adams that the water is safe to drink. But none of them have ever had a gulp of the water they think the residents should drink.
Dollars and Sense
In June 2016, at the last rally, Maguire and Councillor Adams stated it would cost $5 Million to bring water to the residents. That was supposedly a lot of money, but this observer thought about council bragging about their surplus, year over year, and about the various sports venues and libraries being built over the years….
Flash forward to May 2017, how much will it cost to bring the water out to Harrietsfield – Maguire says between $9 – 12 – 15 Million. How did the cost doubt or triple since last year? And as was brought up by one attendee, the municipality is planning to spend $5 Million on making Argyle Street downtown, look like argyle socks….. People cannot use the water in their taps, because of contamination caused by the municipality allowing the zoning to be changed and the province allowing a permit to be issued, and it is more important to make a street look like argyle socks.
Maguire stated the Province has put an offer on the table to help with the cost to bring water to the area, and the municipal water board has no plan to do so. This was the first anyone has heard about the Province putting any money on the table for this issue, and we have been hearing a lot about money the Province is putting on various tables in the approach to an election. Do I believe there is money on the table for this issue? Not really.
And let’s not forget about the Federal infrastructure funding. Maguire stated seven projects were approved, but Harrietsfield was not one of them. Harrietsfield was never included in the applications for infrastructure money.
During an exchange with a supporter from the area, Maguire made claims that his hands had been tied, by the councillor and the water commission refusing to act. The point was made that the government could enact any legislation it wanted, as they were a majority government. He denied this was true, but the respondent didn’t let him off. It was a teacher who was speaking, and having just experienced the unconstitutional legislation passed by the same government only 73 days prior, that was a wasted attempt at deflection. He should have been embarrassed, but he kept going.
Maguire then stated the most obscure and untruthful, ridiculous thing yet. He said he knew that it was a frustration, but “Ultimately, what we need to do, is what this government did with Boat Harbour, and get in there and clean it up.”
When I heard this, my head almost popped right off my shoulders. Boat Harbour? Cleaned up? By this government? Boat Harbour is not cleaned up! It hasn’t been started to be cleaned up! There isn’t even a replacement for it, to be able to shut it down to clean it up!!!! And it is one of the most shameful and disgraceful things this province has ever been responsible for. Owned and operated by the Province since 1967, it is called an industrial waste water treatment facility, and is no more than a cooling chamber, as in cooling from boiling to hot, the toxic and noxious effluent from the Pictou Mill. There is no treatment except to churn oxygen into the water, which helps break down the odor, which is still unbearable, and perhaps help bacteria grow, however, I have never seen the evidence bacteria could survive in that water. Cleaned UP???? Go jump in Boat Harbour Brendan Maguire.
But I do want to visit the situation in Boat Harbour further. There is legislation enacted in 2015, by this government, to close Boat Harbour in 2020. It will take unknown numbers of years to clean up the site, and since there is no replacement even in the works, the likelihood of this even happening is up in the air. BUT, this is an example of legislation passed by this government to clean up a site. There is also a sum of $80 Million set aside to go toward remediating the site. The legislation came about due to the effluent pipe bursting and flooding a sacred Mi’kmaq burial ground. The First Nations people barricaded the area and refused to allow the repairs to be done, until an agreement was made on how the repairs would proceed in and around their sacred site and that Boat Harbour was going to close. The Province had no choice but to comply as the mill could not operate without Boat Harbour….. So that was a double bonus bs moment for this political tool. But knowing most people in that room would not be aware of Boat Harbour, or understand the insult and inaccuracy in that statement, speaks to Maguire’s ability to throw lies out there, as a support for his predicament, or for his positioning for the election, while not realizing he was telling them, his government helped that community, but had not helped this one.
Who is responsible?
Going back to the beginning, the local councillor of the day, who is still the local councillor pushed for the site to be rezoned to allow this operation to proceed. There is evidence the councillor was personal friends with the owner, even sitting beside him in the court room during the hearings with NS Environment, while the residents sat across the aisle. NS Environment issued the permit and failed to enforce or monitor the conditions for the site. Throughout this fight, there was an effort to keep the whole situation enveloped under one umbrella, never fully defining any option for either government to take action, but it is fact that the municipality is able to but has not obliged, to bring water out to supply the residents, and NS Environment has the power, but lacks the will, to force the site to be cleaned up. When both Adams and Maguire were in the room together last June, they were a team, patting each other on the back for having spent some time over the prior six weeks talking about the issue. Six whole weeks, wow. But in Adams’ absence this go around, Maguire was quick to lay blame directly on Adams and his fellow municipal government level peers. He repeated several times that the argument now lays solely with the councillor. But that was not accepted, nor is it acceptable.
One thing was apparent. The people in that room who came from the community itself, were largely isolated until lately. Many more people attended this meeting to raise awareness, to show their support and to prove to the residents as well as their representatives, that this story has grown wings. More and more people are becoming aware, and as we learn more, we too are responsible for holding the elected and tax payer funded government staff to account. The process of isolation, and undermining the community has taken its toll on these fellow citizens, just as it has elsewhere. We cannot close our eyes and pretend we didn’t see this. And we cannot allow this community to stand alone any longer. I am not sure how these two elected politicians sleep at night. They are not the only ones, but they are certainly at the top of the list for failing miserably in doing what they are supposed to do. We must not fail these people.