KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – An offer by filmmaker and actor Ellen Page to pay for the drilling of a public well to provide clean water to a long suffering African Nova Scotian community is experiencing some push back from the Town of Shelburne.
“It’s as if the Town doesn’t care whether we get that well. They never say that (getting the well) is a good thing. There never is any talk of thanking Ellen. They just keep asking new questions,” says Louise Delisle, a Shelburne activist.
Recently Page produced a documentary about environmental racism in Nova Scotia, based on the excellent book There’s Something In the Water, by Dr. Ingrid Waldron. Delisle is a member of the South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED), a group of Shelburne activists featured in that documentary.
SEED for years now has raised awareness about water quality and the negative effects of a garbage dump in close proximity to the historic South End Black community.
SEED was also instrumental in bringing in Rural Water Watch, a NGO that helps communities in rural Nova Scotia test for water quality issues. Some 60 wells in the community have been thoroughly tested. Although leaching from the dump at this time was found not to be a factor, coliform bacteria and e. coli were found in most wells.
That’s the problem a newly drilled public well would alleviate. South End wells running dry in the early summer is another issue the community faces. But the town seems reluctant to take Page up on her offer.
A staff report to Council suggests that there is little in the findings of Rural Water Watch to be alarmed about.
“The statement regarding acceptable range for the presence of these (coliform bacteria and e.coli) is based on Department of Environments information. As well DoE indicates that dug wells are the responsibility of the homeowner,” writes Shelburne Mayor Karen Mattatall to the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“These are bacteria that are commonly present and dug wells need to be cleaned regularly to ensure drinking water is safe. The town to date has seen not provided any evidence from the well tests indicating that there are any other contaminants or leaching from any source other than the typical sources that cause e-coli and coliform which is feces and or rotting leaves,“ Mattatall writes.
In fact, the Nova Scotia department of Environment categorically states that water containing E. coli is not potable. “The presence of E. coli indicates that the water source or the system has been contaminated by sewage and the water is unsafe to drink,” states a brochure, Your well water. Is it safe to drink, published by the department.
Where the well would be located is another contentious issue.
SEED wants the well located on the grounds of the Roger Grovestine Recreation Complex in the South End, partly to counter the Town’s estimate that maintenance of the site could be as high as $12,000 per year. After all, the recreation complex already carries insurance and is already maintained year-round, Delisle says.
But Mattatall isn’t sold on a South End location.
“In terms of location of a public well, should there be evidence supporting the need or that there is a responsibility on the part of the Town, and considering as I mentioned that the majority of town residents are on dug wells, a central location would be more reasonable,” writes Mattatall.
Delisle doesn’t agree.
“Ellen (Page) is doing this because she cares about my community and the people in it,” says Delisle. “She cares that we have clean water, because it is a human right, in my mind.”
In other areas of town people have a choice of accessing town water, a choice that people in the South End don’t have, says Delisle.
On Friday afternoon members of Seed, Delisle among them, met with the mayor, the deputy mayor and the CAO.
It didn’t go smoothly.
The Town requested that SEED collects names on a petition to establish who in the town would use the well. All this in one week, when the next meeting is scheduled, and without any offer of help from the town, Delisle tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“So now we have to jump through even more hoops,” says Delisle.
“They’re still not saying if they are willing to work with us. We do not know how many community members are supposed to sign the petition before they will consider it. Altogether, they’re not saying that if we do this, they will consider the well.”
Another meeting between the town and SEED is scheduled for next Friday.
Read mayor Karen Mattatall’s response in its entirety.
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