Environment featured Racism

Talks between Town of Shelburne and clean water activists reach impasse

Louise Delisle. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Talks between the Town of Shelburne and a group advocating for potable water access for a Black community within town limits appear to have broken down completely.

“At a meeting on Oct. 11th 2019 with yourself, the CAO, mayor, Deputy mayor and other representatives of the South End Environmental Injustice Society, it was agreed by all present that in order for council to make an informed decision regarding placing a well in the south end of Shelburne, various information was needed. A follow up meeting was planned for the following Friday,” a letter to Delisle, signed by Shelburne CAO Darren Shupe, states. 

“Instead of waiting for the information to be collected, you chose to immediately go to the press with unsubstantiated information which caused what may well be irreparable damage to our community. These actions leave council with no choice, but to cancel the meeting Friday and seek legal advise (sic) regarding this matter, the brief letter concludes.

Earlier, tests conducted on 60 wells located in the south end by Rural Water Watch found coliform bacteria and E. coli in a majority of wells. Wells also tend to run dry early in the summer.

See also: For Shelburne’s Black community water woes continue

Filmmaker and actor Ellen Page, who became aware of the south end’s Black community’s long history of marginalization while working on a documentary about environmental racism in Nova Scotia, had offered to pay for drilling and construction of the well.

The South End Environmental Injustice Society (SEED), the group that has raised awareness about the issue, has identified what it considers a suitable location on lands in the south end owned by the town. The land is already occupied and maintained by the town, so that should save on maintenance and liability insurance costs, the group believes.

However, as we reported earlier, talks between the town and SEED were not without difficulties. 

See also: Town of Shelburne pushes back on Ellen Page’s offer to pay for new well for African Nova Scotian community

In an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate, which confirms Delisle’s account, mayor Karen Mattatall outlined concerns about the proposed location of the well in the south end, suggesting that a more central place would be more appropriate. 

The Town also sought assurance that the well would indeed fill a need in the community, and asked SEED to quantify support for the idea, Mattatall wrote.  

After the meeting SEED members went door to door and established that South End community members overwhelmingly support the new well and its proposed location in their own neighborhood, Delisle says.

But now all efforts to provide clean drinking water to the south end community appear to have reached an impasse.  

To resolve the issues SEED has requested that Ellen Page’s offer be discussed in public at last night’s Council meeting, but that was refused. A subsequent request from Delisle to be allowed to speak at that same meeting was also denied.  

“We are not trying to cause trouble. It’s just that this well is much needed, and it is much needed in the south end, not downtown,” says Delisle. “That idea that we are somehow causing irreparable damage really hurts me.”

Last year SEED was awarded the Group Award at the 2018 Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards Celebration for its work addressing environmental concerns in the African Nova Scotian community in the south end of Shelburne.  

Earlier we asked Town CAO Darren Shupe to comment on this story. 

“We have no further comment at this time other than to let you know that we will putting out our own press release in the very near future which I would be happy to discuss with you once it is ready,” Shupe wrote on October 21.

To our knowledge the press release has not yet been issued. 

With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.

Subscribe to the Nova Scotia Advocate weekly digest and never miss an article again. It’s free!