Helping Harrietsfield residents with contaminated well water “priority” for government

For Local Xpress.

The provincial and municipal branches of government are teaming up to assist the people in Harrietsfield who have been living without safe drinking water due to a contamination caused by a now-closed construction site.

On Tuesday, Nova Scotia Environment Minister Margaret Miller announced that the province and Halifax Regional Municipality will be working together to address the water issues for eight homeowners in Harrietsfield who have contaminated wells.

In January, Miller issued ministerial orders to two numbered companies that operated a construction and demolition debris facility on the property between 2002 and 2013. However, she feels that the residents with contaminated wells should not have to wait until the court proceedings are over to have safe drinking water in their homes.

“I did issue a ministerial order and that’s in the court system, but it just didn’t seem fair that the residents still didn’t have safe drinking water or even water that they could safely use,” Miller said. “So we moved forward with the water treatment systems.”

The systems will be purchased and installed by the provincial government, while ongoing monitoring of the wells and maintenance costs for the systems will be covered by HRM. No timeline was given regarding when the systems will be purchased and installed, but Miller did say she wants to get this done “as quickly as possible.”

“This has been identified as a priority for our government and for the city of Halifax,” she said.

The now-closed construction and demolition disposal site in Harrietsfield, owned and managed by RDM Recycling.
The now-closed construction and demolition disposal site in Harrietsfield, owned and managed by RDM Recycling. (REBECCA HUSSMAN)

During the Halifax regional council meeting on Tuesday, Coun. Stephen Adams, whose district includes the Harrietsfield area, put forward a motion asking the finance committee for a report on how they will get the funding for the ongoing maintenance of the systems.

“What they’ll do is they’ll look at what these systems traditionally cost to operate on an annual basis, and then they will allocate that amount of money to provide that,” Adams said. He believes the report will likely not be ready to be brought before council until the new year.

“There’s nothing precluding them from installing them now,” Adams said.

Brendan Maguire, the MLA for Halifax Atlantic, was also involved in coming up with the plan to have the province buy the treatment systems and have HRM be responsible for ongoing monitoring and paying for any maintenance fees that arise. Although he says it’s unfortunate that it took this long to get the plan in place as these issues have been plaguing the community for over a decade, he does consider it “a big move forward.”

“It’s ensuring that the people that are directly impacted by RDM have potable water. Does it fix the issue? No, not at all. I mean, there’s still contaminants at RDM,” Maguire said. “Everybody has the right to clean water, (and we) just wanted to make sure that while this works its way through the court systems, that the individuals hadsomething.”

Marlene Brown, a Harrietsfield resident of more than 30 years, says she was shocked when she first heard that she and the seven others with contaminated wells listed in the ministerial orders were going to be receiving water treatment systems.

“I’m glad that all levels of government are taking this seriously,” she said. However, Brown believes that there are more than eight homes with wells that have been contaminated by the leachate coming from the site.

“I hope that they test other residents’ wells and if need be put them on the monitoring program as well,” Brown said. “Because I know there are a lot of people within 500 metres of the site that don’t even have water systems and are still drinking their water.”

For now, she says she hopes the systems will be installed in all eight homes immediately.

“If all this can be done before Christmas or at least started before Christmas, I think that would make an awesome Christmas gift for everybody,” she said. “That way people will be able to go into the new year without this stressful situation taking over so much of their life.”

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