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Laying waste 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

“I came here as a foster child and my mumma’s buried down there,” Wendy Campbell told me last Saturday in the graveyard at Tracadie United Baptist Church near Lincolnville, a tiny black settlement in Guysborough County. “This lady took me and raised me as her own and Lincolnville is my community.” Now Campbell fears that a huge landfill will eventually wipe out the 222-year-old black loyalist settlement in northeastern Nova Scotia along with its history. “I remember the elders,” she says. “I loved their stories. I loved listening to my grandmother hum hymns as she made bread or my mother, always praising Jesus.” Although Campbell left Lincolnville “when I learned that there was toilets you could flush,” she returned to settle there 15 years ago. Now, she’s leading the fight against a new garbage site about a kilometre from Lincolnville’s 80 or so residents.

The second-generation landfill is next to the old Guysborough dump that operated for 34 years. The new site accepts solid waste from all of Cape Breton and the municipalities of Guysborough, Pictou and Antigonish. That means that huge garbage trucks will continue to rumble past Lincolnville for at least another 20 years, adding up to more than half a century of noise, dirt, smells, health worries and dismal property values. “We don’t want the landfill. We don’t want it at all,” says James Desmond, another Lincolnville resident who is campaigning to get the facility moved. Desmond and Campbell insist that Lincolnville residents are victims of the same racism that afflicted the doomed community of Africville when the city of Halifax opened a garbage dump next to it in the 1950s.

Lincolnville resident Sheila Pelly disagrees. “I don’t think it has anything to do with racism,” says Pelly, the municipal councillor who represents the black communities of Lincolnville, Sunnyville and Upper Big Tracadie. “The same thing went on 34 years ago when the landfill site was put here,” she adds. “This is nothing new.” Besides, Pelly says, Campbell and Desmond should have spoken up sooner. The two began raising questions just three months before the new site started operating in January. “There was no secret that the second-generation landfill site was going to be built,” she points out. “Now they say they want it moved. That doesn’t make any sense.” She adds that thanks to the fees other municipalities pay to use the landfill, residents of Guysborough County pay the lowest property taxes in the province.

Guysborough warden Lloyd Hines also criticizes Campbell and Desmond for not participating more actively in community consultations. “There’s all kinds of emotional issues,” he acknowledges. “There’s the live grenade issue of solid waste itself and the race issue is another live grenade.” But Hines says racism is not a factor. “We’re very proud of our black community in Guysborough.”

“We’re not going to lower the temperature, we’re only going to take it up,” James Desmond vowed during a community meeting last Saturday. About 60 people attended from all over the province, including organizers from Halifax who support the campaign to move the landfill. Supporters include a black economic development organization called Bound to be Free, the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty, the Sierra Club and Ecology Action Centre. Gene Daniels, a professor at NSCAD, said he’ll be conducting a health survey to see if the landfill is linked to illnesses such as stomach cancer and migraines.

“There are still people in the community who believe the landfill site is not a problem,” Wendy Campbell admits. But she contends that if the landfill isn’t moved, it will eventually expand, Lincolnville will disappear and its residents will become the latest victims of racism. Is the new landfill really an example of environmental racism? It’s a hard question for any outsider to answer, especially when Lincolnville residents disagree among themselves. But judging from last weekend’s town meeting, the legacies of racism and oppression haunt us still.

Is race playing a role in the Lincolnville landfill? Email: brucew@thecoast.ca

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