Approximately 50 people filled the Boylston Community Centre on Wednesday, February 21st, to participate in a Q&A styled town hall meeting with Councillor Neil DeCoff. The meeting offered constituents of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG), District 3, an opportunity to meet and express views with their Councillor over recent news of the possibility of fracking in the Guysborough County. At the centre of the discussions was the MODG’s request to the provincial government, to reverse its position on fracking, and allow test fracking in Guysborough County.
The MODG’s motion requesting the lifting of the provincial 2014-fracking ban was the basis of the Council’s recent letter to the provincial Liberal government. The Council’s motion read: “that the Council of the Municipality of the District of Guysborough write the Premier of Nova Scotia, with copies to all members of the Legislature, indicating that in light of the recent release of the Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas Project confirming the economic potential for onshore hydrocarbon development, that we strongly urge the Province to create regulations and legislation that remove the ban on fracking in NS and design a program that provides strict guidelines and parameters under which a pilot project can be initiated to determine whether this resource can be safely developed for the benefit of all Nova Scotians.”
The motion passed unanimously supported by all eight council members. When asked about how the subject of fracking was brought to Council’s attention, Councillor DeCoff indicated that to the best of his memory, Barry Carroll, MODG’s CAO introduced the issue at the January 22, 2018 Council meeting, when he shared the Atlas Study Map with the Council members. According to DeCoff, he believes Council has yet to hear back from the province on their request.
One member of the audience, rather than address a question to the Councillor, made a statement and outlined that Councillor DeCoff was an elected official of the citizens in District 3. So if he were effectively doing his job, he would listen to his constituents’ concerns, ideas, etc., and vote in Council, based on what the majority of his constituents deemed important; not necessarily what he thought was important. She went on to add that given the 50 or so people at the meeting, the large majority of which who were against fracking, DeCoff, had he followed his constituents’ wishes at the centre, should have voted against sending the letter regarding lifting the fracking ban to the provincial government.
A large number of the residents in the audience expressed their concern over the Council’s lack of including any public participation in the process, seeing once again Council appeared not to be as transparent as it would like citizens to believe. Councillor DeCoff admitted there had not been any public input solicited, or discussion in reaching the decision to ask the provincial government to lift the fracking ban. He went on to explain that if the provincial government lifted the ban, then the public discussion would begin before going forward with any fracking test wells. Many in the audience challenged him on this with his “cart before the horse” position.
When asked whether the MODG had asked other area municipalities to send letters to the province stating their support in lifting the ban on fracking, DeCoff said letters from Guysborough had gone to the Town of Mulgrave, Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, as well as Antigonish, Port Hawkesbury, and in addition to the Guysborough Board of Trade.
Councillor DeCoff was repeatedly challenged by questions regarding the apparent lack of due diligence by the MODG in arriving at a decision asking the province to change the anti-fracking regulation, without input from geological scientists, engineers, etc. However, DeCoff admitted that there had been significant discussions among council members over the economic advantages for the County and the province. The audience quickly realized that the decision to open up fracking in Guysborough was a “dollars and cents” decision by the MODG without any kind of scientific input.
Repeatedly Councillor DeCoff was challenged by the fact that there had been no scientific research or studies tied to their decision. No engineers or geological scientists had been retained for studies in order to review and assess the many environmental issues, or numerous health risks at stake against the economic advantages. He added, “The Council was looking at the broader picture of the municipality.” Adding fracking can, he felt, be developed in a safe way.
These comments were in contrast to audience members’ concerns over the millions of litres of water used in the fracking process, the intermingling of various water sources and fluids, the many chemicals involved, the disposal of wastewater, and the size and location of tailing ponds. These and other issues formed a long list of concerns.
A member of the audience pointed out with regard to the Atlas Study Map of Nova Scotia, that it did not include any research for Guysborough County. Rather it focused on the reserves located in the Windsor and Cumberland sub basin. Discussion continued with audience members asking why even ask the province to eliminate the anti-fracking ban in Guysborough if Council has no idea what shale reserves are actually in the ground.
Country economic growth or lack thereof, also came up for discussion tied into the current fracking discussion. One member of the public felt the Council was driven in its economic development plans based entirely on industrial projects, including fracking. He suggested a Guysborough County development concept based on promoting the beauty of the area in order to attract tourism, eco-friendly, small businesses and a quality of life that people would be attracted to. He also referred to the shrinking population over the past thirty years with its significant 50% decline. The current industrial projects he pointed out were on a possible “hit or miss” list, requiring multi-million dollar investment funding and all might never see the light of day.
Through a show of hands, the audience unanimously voted to see future town hall type meetings with their Councillor, as well as meetings involving the full Council and citizens of all districts. Councillor DeCoff was asked to share his thoughts with his fellow council members on the idea of holding similar meetings in their respected districts.
Three important requests developed from the meeting for Councillor DeCoff to share with Council:
- The residents of District 3 who attended the meeting share concerns about the issuance of the MODG letter sent to the Province, particularly, the reference to the Province “create regulations and legislation that removes the ban on fracking in Nova Scotia…”
- That more town hall type meetings be held with Councillor DeCoff in District 3 regarding the fracking issue (and all issues) and those other Councillors in their respective districts. That the Council as a whole is encouraged to have these same type of meetings so citizens can get answers to their questions.
- That the Municipality do their due diligence and obtain unbiased geologic and scientific research on fracking BEFORE going any further with their support of lifting the ban on fracking in the Province and that there be a flow of information back to the constituents from their Councillors regarding the information received, so the constituents can decide how they want to their Councillor to represent their wishes.
The general consensus by the participants at the end of the meeting was that the evening was a positive experience, with a good exchange of views and ideas. Many, despite differences of opinion with the Councillor, thanked Neil DeCoff for coming. One person leaving the Centre, commenting on Councillor DeCoff said, “I really think he heard us tonight.” This is the first time in Guysborough County there has been a Town Hall styled meeting. Constituents are looking forward to furthering the dialogue with their local council members.
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