Water crisis an election issue in Halifax Atlantic

Liberal incumbent faces criticism from challengers over long-festering environmental problem in Harrietsfield.

click to enlarge Don't drink the water. - VIA ISTOCK
Don't drink the water.
Water is on the minds of voters in the riding of Halifax Atlantic.

As detailed in this week’s cover story of The Coast, for more than 10 years people in the community of Harrietsfield have been unable to drink or use their tap water due to the presence of uranium, lead and other toxic substances from a nearby recycling depot

The issue has once again bubbled to the surface with the recent dismissal of the contaminated property owners’ latest appeal, and Marlene Brown’s groundbreaking private prosecution filing under the NS Environment Act.

What voters this provincial election will most likely want to know, however, is what each party plans to do about the ongoing environmental crisis if elected.

Liberal incumbent Brendan Maguire says he understands the issue better than most.

“I grew up in Harriestfield just two homes down from RDM [Recycling], so for me this is personal.”

Addressing the crisis was “literally the first call I made as an MLA,” says Maguire, and the Liberals have “made more progress on Harrietsfield than any time in the last 20 years.”

Most recently, that involved the municipality and province coming to an agreement on providing free water filtration systems to homes “directly impacted” by the contamination.

But that’s only for eight homes, says NDP challenger Trish Keeping.

“Eight! Give me a break.”

The chemical fallout could be impacting many more residents. Keeping claims the number could be as high as 80 homes, which she calls totally unacceptable.

“These people can’t even drink what comes out of their tap,” she says. “[They] have a right to clean drinking water.”

That point is echoed by Progressive Conservative candidate Bruce Holland, who says he went through a similar process back in the ‘90s with the junkyard out near Five Island Lake. It ended up costing $20 million to remediate the site, which was contaminated by discarded old transformers.

The long-term strategy in Harrietsfield should also be remediation, he says, “to make sure that the funds were made available to do whatever is necessary to make sure these people get clean drinking water.”

For the Green Party, issues like Harrietsfield are the “whole motivation for why we are here,” according to party leader Thomas Trappenburg.

Halifax Atlantic candidate Chelsea Carter was unavailable for comment, but Trappenburg says Harrietsfield is an “environmental crisis” that needs to be cleaned up immediately; and needs to inspire sharper laws to prevent similar problems in the future.

“These kinds of things are terrible,” he says. “They are important and they should be changed.”

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