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The War on Water in Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia - Part Three

Councillor Steve Adams, toxic water and broken promises

by Rebecca Hussman

Marlene Brown, a Harrietsfield resident of over 30 years, stands across from RDM Recycling and educates community members about the pollution from the site, how to test their wells and where to get safe water from. [Photo: R. Hussman]
Marlene Brown, a Harrietsfield resident of over 30 years, stands across from RDM Recycling and educates community members about the pollution from the site, how to test their wells and where to get safe water from. [Photo: R. Hussman]
RDM Recycling, at 1275 Old Sambro Road, has been closed since 2013. Since then, nothing has been done to clean up the site or help the residents with their contaminated lakes and drinking water supply. [Photo: R. Hussman]
RDM Recycling, at 1275 Old Sambro Road, has been closed since 2013. Since then, nothing has been done to clean up the site or help the residents with their contaminated lakes and drinking water supply. [Photo: R. Hussman]
The RDM Recycling facility at 1275 Old Sambro Road has been shut down since January of 2013. Residents would repeatedly try calling the number listed to report after-hours activity, but there would be no answer. {Photo: R. Hussman]
The RDM Recycling facility at 1275 Old Sambro Road has been shut down since January of 2013. Residents would repeatedly try calling the number listed to report after-hours activity, but there would be no answer. {Photo: R. Hussman]

HARRIETSFIELD, NOVA SCOTIA -- Residents of the Harrietsfield community were surprised when Steve Adams showed up to their community meeting on May 22, 2015.

"We have been asking him over the last 6 years to come to our meetings,” says Marlene Brown. "He never came to the other ones."

In 2013, Brown asked both municipal councillor Adams and Nova Scotia Environment to tell the residents of the community about the state of their water.

"They never did that,” Brown said. She took it upon herself to get as many members of the community together to make sure everyone’s properly informed.

The most recent community meeting, on May 22, 2015, was at the Harrietsfield Williamswood Community Centre on Old Sambro Road.

"We planned it several weeks ago, so we didn’t know when we would be getting a decision from court,” says King. “Our goal (was) just to inform people on what’s been going on legally and, in the process, with our water.”

Adams spoke at the meeting, attempting to address some of the community's concerns.

"It is expensive to bring water and sewage, or just water, to the community,” he said. “The issue is a lack of density to bring the costs to a manageable position.”

Adams also mentioned a possible infrastructure program for the region that would help kick-start development and help with some of the financial barriers.

"We need something today,” Brown said, trying to get the urgency of the matter across. Adams then said he would ask council if water tank trucks could be brought out to the community centre so people can fill up their water jugs with safe water, as per Brown’s request.

Brown, along with many others, has been relying on the nearest access point the community has to safe water – in Spryfield – for years.

On June 2, Adams said he plans on bringing up the issue at the next council meeting, which will be on June 16.

"I will be bringing a request to council […] to look at options for not only Harrietsfield, but other communities, including but not limited to Brookside, Hatchet Lake and Goodwood.”

He also says he will be asking staff to write a report “to explore options to help residents in (the) areas of HRM who are experiencing issues with […] their water.”

How RDM Recycling became approved by the municipal, provincial government

Adams has been the councillor for the Harrietsfield region for a total of 24 years.

In 2002, he helped Mike Lawrence and Roy Brown get a municipal license to run their recycling facility at 1275 Old Sambro Road.

Lawrence and Brown are the current owners of the property. In 2005, they leased the site to Brian Dubblestyne and Kurt Jacobs, changing their company name to 3012334 Nova Scotia Limited. Dubblestyne and Jacobs subsequently formed 3076525 Nova Scotia Limited and took over the RDM name.

According to the HRM council minutes from October 8, 2002, Adams argued that “the material disposed of at the facility will be inert and non-toxic” and that RDM “runs a clean and efficient operation.”

The minutes also state that many councillors did not endorse RDM’s proposal to run their facility at that location. Some of the reasons provided by those opposed included the site being “in a residential zone” and the facility being “too close to a watershed.”

Moreover, the Halifax County Watershed Advisory Board recommended against granting RDM the license.

Nevertheless, the municipal government granted Lawrence and Brown a license to run their facility at the Harrietsfield site in 2002.

The company began operations without obtaining the necessary approval from Nova Scotia Environment.

According to court documents, at that time there were no licensed construction and demolition (C&D) disposal facilities within the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), so the company had no legal way of getting rid of their leftover waste materials.

When Lawrence and Brown applied for the proper disposal license from Nova Scotia Environment in 2003, the department found that the company had kept hazardous waste materials uncovered and exposed to the elements on the site for an extended period of time, contrary to regulations.

In November 2003, Nova Scotia Environment asked RDM to submit a Remedial Action Plan with regards to the site. RDM proposed to put all the leftover materials that could not be buried, recycled or sold in a containment cell. The containment cell was capped in 2004, and is estimated to be housing 120,000 tonnes of hazardous waste.

Poor management of the site, construction of containment cell

In November 2010, the Minister of Environment issued an Order to all of the owners of the property over the years. The Order said, among other things, that the companies are responsible for the clean-up of the site, which has been estimated to cost around $10 million.

It has not been made clear to residents whether the clean-up will impact their already already contaminated water supply and the nearby lakes.

Dubblestyne and Jacobs appealed the Ministerial Order in December 2010.

Part of the grounds of Dubblestyne and Jacobs’ appeal have to do with the fact that Nova Scotia Environment actually approved the containment cell built by the team of engineers RDM hired, “failing to ensure that it was constructed properly."

"While the early stages of the containment cell construction were inspected by Maritime Testing (1985) Limited (“Maritime Testing”), a group of professional engineers, there is nothing in the appeal record to suggest that a geotechnical engineer was involved in the inspection, tests, capping or certification of the containment cell,” it says in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision.

The department had specifically asked RDM to hire a geotechnical engineer to inspect and oversee the cell’s construction, which did not happen.

Further, there were issues with the way Lawrence and Brown handled their construction and demolition materials: "The asphalt pad constructed by the appellant where some of the materials were stored was not watertight."

Hydrogeologist Melanie Haggart, hired by the department to conduct water tests in the Harrietsfield region, told Nova Scotia Environment that she had concerns about the structural integrity of the containment cell. She suspected it to be leaking, contributing to the already contaminated groundwater supply in the area.

Haggart reported that elevated levels of heavy metals were detected in wells downstream from the site since April 2006, “either due to leakage around the well casing or possibly due to the ingress of water through a leak in the C and D (construction and demolition) cell cover."

Records state that "more environmentally hazardous material, including gyproc, were accepted onto the Property between 2005 and 2010 (and beyond)."

Haggart’s report indicates that levels of uranium in certain wells near the site had “increased by 500% since monitoring started.”

What Nova Scotia Environment and the Minister knows and what they say they’ll be doing

Dubblestyne was sent a letter containing the Ministerial Order, which included Haggart’s report and a letter from Stephen Westhaver, a representative of Nova Scotia Environment.

"We have concluded that the identified plume is sourced from the RDM site,” the letter says, citing Haggart’s report. "This conclusion is based on the facts that groundwater up gradient of the site is not contaminated, groundwater on the site is contaminated, and groundwater flow directions, determined by the site operator’s consultants, indicate that the impacted offsite groundwater can only be sourced from the site."

According to Haggart, "water which has contacted C and D (construction and demolition) materials can infiltrate into the ground,” so the source of the contamination could be coming from both the materials present on site and exposed to the elements, and from the leaking cell.

"The containment cell was supposed to be producing large volumes of contaminated leachate that should have been collected in crocks for proper disposal. Was there any such leachate being produced and, if so, where was it going? We do not have a clear answer to this question,” the department writes.

Justice Joshua Arnold of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court made his decision on the appeal on May 6, 2015, stating that all clauses of the Order were to be upheld except for one clause that is about the containment cell.

The Minister of Environment, Randy Delorey, and the lawyers representing RDM, are currently negotiating the terms of this clause.

Once this is done, the Minister will make his decision on the case.

To date, the Minister has not been able to provide an estimated timeline for the clean-up, nor his decision-making process.

"Environment staff and legal counsel are continuing to work through all aspects of the court's decision and how it affects the Ministerial Order,” says Heather Fairbairn, a representative of the department.

"We are also engaging with the companies involved as they develop their action plans to address the issues at the site and those affecting homeowners in the area. Once we have reviewed and approved these action plans, the department, as regulator, will work to ensure the company fulfills its commitment."

Community members’ pleas ignored, hopes squashed with more empty promises

"They promised that when this facility reached its cycle it would become a beautiful golf course, and it would turn into an asset to the community,” Nancy Nicholson recalls.

"(People) said Steve Adams was our county councillor, and he wouldn’t let something like this go through if it wasn’t for the betterment of the community."

During the planning phases for the site, Adams promised the residents many things. He even went so far as to tell them that he would give residents a tax cut if the facility were to be approved and begin operations.

"Back in ’01, our councillor Steve Adams proposed a fifty percent tax cut,” Brown says.

Brown kept the letter Adams sent to Honourable Angus MacIsaac in June 2001.

"Community members expressed concerns that if this bylaw is passed, their property values would be adversely affected. As well, they feel that taxes should be cut in half to reflect these changes," the letter says.

"As such, I respectfully request that the properties in the vicinity of RDM have their assessed reduced by 50% should this bylaw pass,” Adam wrote.

To date, residents have not received any updates on this tax cut.

Instead, they have continued to pay for water testing and filtration systems, as well as water tax for water they do not actually have.

"I truly believe the residents in Harrietsfield-Williamswood have already paid (enough),” says Brown. “They’ve paid quite a bit over the years to bring water in the community, and I strongly believe that they should not be charged for any hook-ups (to safe water) at all.”

Issues involving high levels of uranium in the private wells in the Harrietsfield region pre-date the time RDM operated on the site, according to documents provided by Nova Scotia Environment. However, the levels of uranium and other heavy metals increased to extremely toxic levels when RDM was in operation. The facility continued operating until HRM shut it down in January of 2013.

Part one of this series can be found here.

Part two of this series can be found here.

Follow Rebecca Hussman on twitter @hussmanr


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