Martin Bell

Press Releases

MODL LaHave river project – program to remove straight pipes

Tuesday, June 14, 2016
To: Mayor Don Downe, and Council Members
Municipality of the District of Lunenburg

After months of work by the MODL LaHave River Project Team, four public meetings, several council working sessions, and talking to residences Councillor Bell presented the following motion onbehalf of the team and Councillors:

"that Municipal Council authorize staff to make application to the New Build Canada Fund for a Straight Pipe Replacement Program for the proposed LaHave River Wastewater Management District and to execute the Memorandum of Understanding with Nova Scotia Environment; and further, that Council direct staff to prepare a draft wastewater management district by-law and a capital replacement program, based on full cost recovery of municipal funds, for Council's consideration; the final approval of which will be contingent upon Council approval of the necessary by-law and program policies and successful award of the New Build Canada Fund."

Following the motion being made he then presented his address to Council in support of the motion. Here are excerpts from that presentation:

Today, let's think about our impact and make a positive change.

Martin Bell Presentation The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia, is the largest living thing on Earth, and even visible from outer space. The 2,300km-long ecosystem comprises thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over 600 types of hard and soft coral. Twenty years ago a team of scientists from the James Cook University told us that this great living structure was starting to bleach. Bleaching is when corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients. They then expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white. One of the biggest contributors to this is the burning of coal by nations like Canada, China, and the United States. While we knew this for years we did nothing. Now in the last five years we have lost 15% of this largest living thing on Earth and are only now starting to pay attention. In the next five years we may very well lose another 15% or more. I point this out because many of us say, Oh well this isn’t any concern of mine. Well maybe this is too far away from us to be concerned but there are things right in our own municipality that we should be concerned about. There are things that WE can do something about if we only try in some small way.

The LaHave River, according to tests, isn’t fit to swim in. Some people, some scientists, say it shouldn’t even be boated on since you shouldn’t even touch the water. You certainly can’t drink it. The reason our river; your river, my river, Lunenburg County’s river, is polluted can be directly linked to the decades old practice of straight pipe discharge of sewage into the river from people’s homes. It’s our dirty little secret. But the secret is out. A young adult by the name of Stella Bowles who shared her science project to about 2,100 of her followers on Facebook are listening and social media shared this dirty little story with a million readers. For too many years many of our politicians and leaders have been ignoring the problem for too many years. Stella isn’t alone. People like Dr. David Maxwell, groups like the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, and even some politicians are beginning to wake up. It’s not the smell of roses that they’re finding, though. It’s a completely different smell. And, as you read on the front page of the Lighthouse, “Ducks don’t use toilet paper,” so don’t blame them for the problem.

We have also heard that the Town of Bridgewater places a significant volume of water that may not be fully treated but I point out they have been making a continuous investment in upgrades since the 1960’s and we need to be seen as doing the same. With new regulations we will see further improve- ments.

You’ve heard some people call it a problem of “rich people’s poo in the river.” Well, it’s more than that. It’s estimated that six hundred homes pipe their untreated, raw sewage direct into the river. At an average of one thousand litres a day, which is about the average for a three person home (345 litres per person per day), that’s six hundred thousand litres of sewage going into the river every day. Everyday. And, it’s against the law. That’s right. It’s against the law. Right now we have the opportunity to access federal funds (BCF) to help us start making things right. Right now, we can use those funds, and funds from the municipality, (which would be repaid by property owners) and maybe even funds from the province to reduce the impact on homeowners and taxpayers to install what we should have been installing for the last half century: approved septic disposal fields. And maybe, just maybe, if we act quickly, we can use federal, provincial, and municipal dollars to spread the twelve thousand dollars for each straight pipe to be fixed out over five to seven years and make the remediation easier on the pocket books of people living in those homes. Not all of them are rich people – some of them have lived in their houses for decades, or live in houses passed down to them over generations. Some of them; some of us couldn’t afford to buy the houses we live in at today’s real estate prices. They’re our friends and neighbours. They’re our brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and grandparents. Through this program we may get the price down to just $147.00 a month. But to do this we need to partner with the homeowner, the provinicial government, the federal government, and we (MODL) need to provide the leadership. We can’t provide leadership with a big stick. That’s what some individuals think is the simple route. Frankly, I’ve never seen evidence that control-based thinking and strategies produce sustainable results. Sure you can get a dog’s attention by yanking on a leash attached to a choke collar. But, as soon as the dog is off the leash, it’s either back to the old habits or if it’s had enough, attacking the person who yanked the leash. Of course these homeowners aren’t dogs, and we don’t literally leash people that continue to use straight pipes. But all of the control-based strategies by authority to order compliance by NSE or us, to control people’s behavior by using “psychological leashes” will still provide resistance without a replacement program. I do want to point out through that I feel property owners that have straight pipes are expected to financially contribute to addressing the issue and the solution. However, here is another area where we (MODL) can provide leadership. Let’s not shake that big stick at those on fixed or low incomes, but instead look at a way to defer these upgrade/replace costs until the property’s ownership is transferred. Then MODL collects all costs, plus interest at time of transfer.

Even if you don’t live on the river, you’re affected by it: every tourist dollar that it brings in; buying gas, eating in restaurants, staying overnight, boating, swimming, or just enjoying the beauty. We all living in this region need those dollars.

We’re a group. We collect and share our tax monies. This year we’ve got Capital Projects in Cookville and New Germany. We’re working on sidewalks. We’re improving Osprey Village. Not all of our projects directly help people that live in other areas of the county, but we all work together to support each other. I use the example of Church Lake access where MODL funds from all regions went to fund an asset that will be mostly used by local people but we all have the benefit of this great lake access.

Stella Bowles This river is part of our heritage. For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet, and toilets flush and take away things we don’t want to deal with. We think very little about it. We have lost our respect for the river, for the complex workings of our tidal waters, and for the complex systems of life that our river supports. Because the effluent we put into our river just doesn’t affect us – it affects the wildlife and plant life, too.

Why wait until the LaHave River estuary is beyond hope or salvage? Dr. David Suzuki says, “It shouldn't be up to young people to clean up the messes we have made. After all, we don't even allow them to vote — to choose who will make decisions on their behalf. And they will be most affected by the decisions made today.” It’s time for everyone in the area, from New Germany to Risser’s Beach, to get behind this project. We’re all travelling on the same ship, and we’re the crew. Just because you don’t work in the engine room doesn’t mean that keeping the engines running and in good shape isn’t important to you. Just because you don’t live on the river doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect your life. Or your children’s lives. Let’s fix it now.

If I may, I want to end with the words of Justin Trudeau, “We must make important changes if we want to leave the next generation with a clean environment”.

MODL Wastewater Management – Reflecting, Prudence, Fairness and Equality

Wednesday, April 30, 2008
To: Warden Jack Wentzell, and Council Members
Municipality of the District of Lunenburg

MODL Wastewater Management – Reflecting, Prudence, Fairness and Equality Good government has the ability to change. Change is needed to address changes in time and conditions and outside forces that require our ability to seek solutions to address these changes. From time to time one must step back and look from the outside and see if what was set up is still working and is it the best arrangement for today to handle our goals and objectives. An example might be the national railroad where it was seen as being the tool to give everyone a standard of living that could deliver goods and supplies at a reasonable cost. In the early 1800’s you had the Atlantic Railroad and it extended to the Grand Trunk Railroad in Upper Canada. But profits could only be made in the east as smaller rail systems in the west cost too much to maintain or operate. Canada in 1850 was a patchwork of discontented colonies, groping their way toward united nation-hood. But Canadians then, as they do today, faced the future with confidence in themselves and faith in their destiny. By working together and setting rates at reasonable levels along all the lines and the sharing of resources it helped with continued growth westward. Canada today is a power among nations, with a great and growing influence in world affairs because of the railroads of the past. Then in the 1970’s when the eastern lines started to lose money, some in Ottawa and the office towers of Toronto and Montreal decided to lift the tracks in many areas of eastern Canada. Now in the early 2000’s we see that decision was wrong as we all pay more for goods and services like food, and industries prefer to locate in Quebec and Ontario where rail service is still available. Here we see change was needed to address changes in time and conditions and outside forces but the government failed to seek solutions to address these changes and took the easy way out. Our nation was founded on the principles of sharing the wealth and working towards solutions that gave all areas a reasonable level of service at a reasonable level of cost.

Another example is when Canada was young and Nova Scotia was considered rich we used our resources to fund growth west. Companies like Cunard Shipping and Bank of Nova Scotia provided resources that gave Nova Scotia the “have province” ability to fund Ontario and Alberta. Then suddenly areas like Nova Scotia and Newfoundland fell upon hard times and were the “have not” provinces and people in Ontario soon forgot about the help they got from the east. Well, now in year 2008, Newfoundland is moving back to the “have status” and Ontario is falling to the “have not” status. So, do we as Canadians fairly address capital resources and operating funding of these provinces, and if not do citizens living in these areas encounter hardships? On Wednesday, April 9th, the Federal Government of Canada (Hon. Baird) stated that they would ban the dumping of sewage into rivers and oceans, even sewage that has been partially treated. As we know many of our villages like Dayspring, Lahave, and Riverport now dump raw sewage into the river and our citizens will inevitably face increased taxes through Area Rates or sewage fees because of the new federal rules. This is an example of why more than ever this Council must go to a Global Rate for wastewater treatment or the MODL are going to have to get use to the idea of using General Taxes to help fund Area Rates.

Our own Provincial Environment Minister the Hon. Mark Parent said Atlantic communities, many of which don’t even have primary sewage treatment, lag behind the rest of the country, where many communities are doing secondary treatment. Look at how many straight pipes don't allow for any treatment right now. We have several Shore Drive style areas that the MODL are going to have to address. There are also areas like Turner Heights in Lower Branch and areas off the Pine Grove Road area where future requests may come for assistance to develop municipal wastewater treatment facilities.

I have been saying for six years now that in developing any policy it is prudent to establish a framework of principles or goals which will form the basis against which that policy is implemented or applied. Some of those ideas I was able to get passed as you already know. Fiscal responsibility, prudence, fairness and equality should be the cornerstones of this process regardless of what community you reside in.

In considering a sanitary sewer policy, it should be noted that only a few areas of the Municipality are served by central sewer systems but under new incoming Federal laws there may be many more. While the majority of properties have private on-site sewage systems, Municipal Councils have determined that the public interest would best be served by developing a public sewer system in certain communities. The wastewater sanitary sewer policy should fairly address capital and operating funding of these public systems and should not be sidetracked by the reality that most property owners in the Municipality bear the cost of their individual private onsite systems.

Fiscal responsibility and prudence, when sensibly applied, suggests that capital funding recovery should be placed as fully as possible on those who directly benefit from connection to the sanitary sewer system. However, the level of capital recovery should not be so high as to drive existing property owners from their home or business or stifle any reasonable prospect for new development or renewal within the sewer system catchment area.

The cornerstones of fairness and equality should recognize that while there is uniformity to the sewer service provided, there are considerable variables in both the capital and operating costs of each Municipal sewer system. It is further noted that the principle of universality forms the foundation of many government policies. For example, postage for a letter is constant irrespective whether the letter goes just a mile or across the country. So, should there be wide variations between area rates levied for the various sewer systems in our Municipality? The lack of size and scale in all our sewer systems has produced wide variations in costs to build and operate each sewer system, but in actuality a common level of service is provided within all serviced areas like New Germany, Conquerall Bank, Hebbville, or Cookville. It should also be noted that the benefits of a central sewer system extend well beyond the system's service or catchment area. For example, businesses in serviced areas benefit from their connection to the sewer system, but their customer base is much larger. Is it a coincidence that the overwhelming percentage of our retail and service businesses are connected to public sewer systems. A prudent sewer policy may also be a factor in economic development like it was in Osprey Village or exit 12 area. We as a Council know the importance of further development of the serviced area at Osprey Village.

While the service level is consistent across the various sewer systems, the unit costs to build and sustain each system varies widely due to an array of topographic factors, density of service connections and the proportion of commercial to residential assessment within the service catchment area. The Hebbville system, as an example, is doubly blessed by having a significant revenue stream guaranteed by an agreement with the Bridgewater Public Service Commission (which also paid a substantial portion of the last upgrade to the system when the water treatment plant was built) and by the fact that the Hebbville system is only a flow-through system with no treatment component. While it is true that an annual fee is paid to the Town of Bridgewater, that cost is very favorable relative to the capital and operating costs that would be incurred by property owners within this system area if this Municipality were required to operate its own sewage treatment plant to service the Hebbville system.

The Municipality needs a sewer policy that requires as much of the cost as possible; both capital and operating; to be levied on those properties connected, or capable of being connected, to a public sewer system. Given the small scale of our systems, however, some capital costs may have to be carried on the general tax rate at least until adequate reserve funding is put in place. All properties within a public sewer catchment area should share a similar level of cost for this same service level irrespective of which sewer service area they are within. We do this with other services, like solid waste. In that case, the cost to collect and transport waste is higher from more distant communities such as Lapland than from Oakhill, but the cost base for this service is per stop, irrespective of the location of that stop. So someone who lives in Dublin Shore or Baker Settlement pays the same General Rate even if it costs the MODL more to collect their garbage than say Dayspring’s or Oakhill’s. A similar blended rate should apply to at least operating cost recovery for all Municipal sewer systems.

Another example of fiscal responsibility, prudence, fairness and equality was a letter from our very own Council to Mr. Lyle Goldberg, of the UNSM in March of this year. In that letter we stated that the capping of assessment has had a positive impact on reducing the cost of services from the Province to municipalities with high assessment growth, such as the MODL. The example we used is if the CAP were to be eliminated, the MODL could lose over $600,000 to extra education payments next year. The CAP prevents further shifts to the MODL in education and other provincial service costs that are based on uniform assessment. With the CAP in place we have a level of certainty for our property owners. We also understand there are residents that have difficulty paying their tax bills due to rising assessments. If we added an Area Rate of anywhere from 18 cents to one dollar and forty seven cents we would increase difficulty for these same residences but yet are providing them all the same type of service. Let’s provide for that same positive impact on reducing the cost of services when those services are the same and give a level of certainty for our property owners.

Thank you for taking time to read my comments and I would be glad to provide additional comparisons for your consideration.

Councillor Martin E. Bell, PCP, EMD-Q, CMG