Environment featured

Harrietsfield and the idiocracy we live in

Stacey Rudderham is a local activist. This story is a shortened version of a story she posted on her One not so bored housewife blog. 

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It seems people running for election in Nova Scotia acquire the bizarre skill to say things that are so completely incorrect that those on the receiving end are simply rendered speechless.

We saw it again on Sunday, May 7, 2017 at the Harrietsfield-Williamswood Community Centre. Residents and their supporters had gathered for a meeting to update and raise support for the community in their continuing battle for safe drinking water.

Photo Stacey Rudderham

The area has been plagued with drinking water issues for decades. First stemming from uranium exploration in the 1970s, and more recently from leakage of construction and demolition waste on a property owned by RDM Recycling 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 120,000 tons of non-recyclable  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 has never worked.

Marlene Brown, who has been leading the charge on this issue, offered background information on this issue to a large and supportive crowd. She went over the many illnesses, especially cancers, experienced in the community that have at times caused death and continue to cause emotional hurt.

Brown also mentioned Blue, a neighbour’s pet dog who recently lost his sibling and who has had tumors removed, while also suffering from incurable lip cancer.

After Marlene wound down her presentation, the room has many questions, mostly for the incumbent Liberal candidate, Brendan Maguire. People were not happy with his responses.

Here is my effort to give a blow by blow report on what transpired.

The shrinking number of affected homes

People asked Maguire why only eight homes were being offered a solution to their water issues, and a temporary solution to boot.  Maguire’s response was simply that “there is a process in place, and if people’s wells are impacted, they need to call the department of Environment.”

However, the department  already knows which homes are affected, after all it has had the test results since 2003. The department also knows which households beyond the eight were sent letters in 2006, telling the residents not to drink their water.

At one time there were 83 households deemed affected, over time that number shrunk to the current eight. How and why that happened we don’t know. But the infuriating part is when an elected municipal or provincial official suggests that just eight homes were ever affected, so what’s the big deal…

What has Maguire done about this issue when he was MLA?

Maguire claims he has been talking many times with the mayor, the local councilor and Halifax Council.

But if true, all that talk certainly didn’t lead to results. A search of council minutes shows there is no record of council discussing the water issue in Harrietsfield since October 2013, except for one motion made by Councillor Stephen  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 eight systems.

Photo Stacey Rudderham

What is wrong with the water?

The 120,000 tons of waste from old demolished buildings is just about the size of the local elementary school.

Among other things remains of an old hospital is buried at the site. 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. That resident also mentioned the noxious smell emanating from the site.

She told Maguire that there is no need to pretend we don’t know how this is impacting health of residents. Testing showed high 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 groundwater, they are  exacerbated and activated due to the additional contamination of the site.  

Meanwhile residents know that the system engineered to prevent leachate has never worked. There is supposed to be a liner in the cell to protect the surrounding environment, but there is no evidence that a liner was ever installed.

The system was supposed to capture an estimated 250 gallons of leachate daily. However, no leachate has ever been pumped out of the system.

Just do the math. 250 gallons per day, every day for 13 plus years equals at least 1.2 million gallons of leachate that has been released directly into the environment….

Brown spoke about the meeting in February, where she and another resident met with Maguire, councillor Adams and staff of the department of Environment.  Brown was told she had to provide evidence that there was an issue with the water. This while the department has  been in court time after time with the owners and operators of the site.

Maguire  kept saying that he has spoken to Brown several times. Brown countered she has not heard from him since February.

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 may sound like a lot, but in reality is only a fraction of the city’s overall budget.

Flash forward to May 2017, how much will it cost to bring the water out to Harrietsfield – Maguire now says it will cost between $9, $12,  maybe even $15 Million. How did the cost double or triple since last year?

Maguire stated the province has put an offer on the table to help with the cost to bring water to the area, but that Halifax Water 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. But hey, it’s election time. Do I believe there is money on the table for this issue? Not really.

Note: numerous media reports have since raised doubts about the seriousness of this offer and have accused Maguire of making statements about the City’s cooperation that are untrue.

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.

Who is responsible?

Stephen  Adams, the local councillor at one time 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 courtroom during the hearings with the department of Environment, while the residents sat across the aisle.

Environment issued the permit for the operation and failed to enforce or monitor the conditions for the site.

We know full well that the municipality is able to bring water out to the residents, and Environment has the power  to force the site to be cleaned up.  What is missing is political will.

The local people who attended the meeting were mostly on their own and were not heard until lately. But that is changing. Many more people attended this meeting than ever before, to show their support and to prove to the residents as well as their representatives that this story has legs.

And that’s a good thing. We cannot close our eyes and pretend it’s not happening. And we cannot allow this community to stand alone any longer.

I am not sure how Adams and Maguire 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.

Unlike them, we must not fail the people of Harrietsfield.

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