BRAESHORE, N.S. – Terry Hilchey wants something that he is sure he is never going to get.
The Braeshore resident, whose home overlooks the Northumberland Strait, wants a guarantee that his own piece of paradise won’t be impacted by Northern Pulp’s plans to pump effluent into local waters.
“If they can guarantee me 100 per cent, no negative spinoffs from all this, that is fine,” he said. “They can’t do that …. (then) it takes time. They have to spend more time and research.”
Terry and his wife, Margo, reminisce fondly about summers spent on local beaches with their children and speak about the traffic they watch in the strait during the summer months.
“We are in these waters every day. We raised our kids on that beach down there. This is an active busy area. There are fishing boats that come here, bass come in, mackerel fishing. There are party boats, sailboats, people swimming, kayaking and paddle boards.”
But now there are too many unanswered questions at this point to put them at ease. There are times, even now that they don’t swim off their shore because of water quality concerns they believe are caused by effluent already coming from Boat Harbour.
The couple, who have a million-dollar view of the strait from their front yard, are also concerned about the future property value of their home.
“I just don’t understand. I am paying my taxes, I contribute to society and I help out, why am I being punished for the sake of this?” said Terry. “I am not getting any benefit out of this."
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They are just two of many residents who want the federal government to take a closer look at this project, rather than having it go through a 30-day provincial environmental assessment.
“It is provincial approval when the ocean is under federal jurisdiction,” said Margo. “Why the federal government isn’t involved just blows my mind.”
The Hilcheys are not alone in their thinking. In fact, a group of people came together this past fall to call for the federal government to get on board. Friends of the Northumberland is comprised of about a dozen people who are from all different career and education backgrounds working for a common goal: no pipe.
They have gone to municipal councils asking for support in its request that the federal government step in and do its own assessment, and have launched their own social media sites, staged local rallies and letter-writing campaigns.
In order to get the federal government to pay attention, Friends, with the support of local fishermen, will be hosting a #No Pipe Land and Sea Rally Friday they hope will bring thousands of people to the waterfront marina to demonstrate their concern.
Friends founding member Jill Scanlan, who practices law in Pictou, describes the experience as an awakening.
“First Nations people have been bearing the burden of this for over 50 years and I think personally a lot of us feel guilt for that. We have been turning a blind eye for years. It is part of this awakening for what we have.”
The group believes a federal assessment will provide the necessary science to prove that the plan is a bad one and the pipe will not go in, but if by chance it doesn’t, they are not willing to give up and will just rethink their next steps.
“The feds can become involved or the province can reject the proposal. If neither of these happen, we will need to regroup and make a decision on going forward, but speaking for myself, it is no pipe,” she said.
Nicole MacKenzie, whose bond with the strait goes back her childhood, is one of many volunteers who have dedicated her spare time to this issue. Her husband, Ryan, fishes on it, her children play on its beaches and they use it as highway to get them to their cottage on Pictou Island.
It is obvious from her blunt words that the strait is a part of her family that needs to be protected and there is not enough trust in the world to make her feel differently.
“Once you go down that rabbit hole, there is no going back,” she said. “There will never be a politician that will tell me it’s okay. There is not enough science to back it up.”
Scanlan’s bond with the water is also deep, but she said it’s also time to stand up for her little town that has been bearing the brunt of poor air quality for decades.
“I work here. I volunteer at the fisheries museum. I know after 20 some years, we struggled as a town to be all we can be and it feels like we are being put down and it is just not fair. This line has been crossed by having that effluent pipe go in. That is not acceptable.”
The group said the entire issue has created tension in a small community that relies on its natural resources for prosperity, but is has also forced business people like Wes Surret to make some tough choices about loyalty.
As manager of the Pictou Lodge, he markets the waters outside of the local resort as much as the lobster they serve.
“We sell warm swimmable waters. We really feel all that is at risk. We have been handicapped with air issues that have been damning our industry, but we just kind of power through. We have learned to live with it, but we have been handicapped for years.”
He said word of mouth and online reviews are the new world and one photo of sludge on his beach could be disastrous for tourism.
“One of our things is online reviews,” he said. “You live and die by Trip Advisor and we have some bad ones on there now about air quality. Brides come out and talk to us and say, ‘can you guarantee it is not going to stink that day’? There is no guarantee, it is a liability. You put a pipe out there, whatever the feds come back with, it is a branding issue for us.”