How do you undo the wounds of waste­water de­bate?

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - OPINION -

Whether or not Amherst’s con­sid­er­a­tion of ac­cept­ing up to 30 mil­lion litres of treated waste wa­ter from a treat­ment fa­cil­ity in De­bert, and it’s sub­se­quent decision to bow to pub­lic pres­sure, was good may never be known, but it showed that a com­mu­nity is will­ing to speak up on what it wants - and doesn’t want.

Un­for­tu­nately, and we hope this is not the case, the town’s decision to en­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions, then abruptly change gears and walk away from those talks, may send a mes­sage that the town is not open to business or eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. For a town des­per­ate for jobs, this could be dis­as­trous.

Those who op­posed the thought of us­ing the town’s new sewage treat­ment fa­cil­ity to dis­pose of treated waste wa­ter tused in hy­draulic frac­tur­ing are cel­e­brat­ing the town’s change of heart, but there are a num­ber of peo­ple out there - in­clud­ing some in the business com­mu­nity - who were hop­ing coun­cil would move ahead with the pro­posal. To them, sci­ence and the test re­sults spoke vol­umes and ac­cept­ing the wa­ter this one time rep­re­sented a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment they hoped could ei­ther lead to ad­di­tional im­prove­ments to the com­mu­nity or ease the tax bur­den - es­pe­cially on those small busi­nesses and home own­ers al­ready strug­gling to make ends meet in a cli­mate of high taxes and in­creas­ing as­sess­ments that don’t seem to have any logic.

At the end of the day, emo­tion and fear of the un­known was the over­rid­ing fac­tor that led town coun­cil to step away. It is a win for par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy when elected of­fi­cials lis­ten to those who put them in of­fice and those who protested, wrote let­ters and talked to their elected of­fi­cials have rea­son to cel­e­brate but how much of the decision-mak­ing fell to mob rule in­stead of sci­ence.

Un­for­tu­nately, as mayor Robert Small said, the de­bate was very di­vi­sive within the com­mu­nity and re­sulted in per­sonal at­tacks and threats against coun­cilors and staff on so­cial me­dia. Th­ese will be the real wounds in­flicted by this de­bate and the end re­sult may be a town coun­cil that’s afraid to take the ini­tia­tive in fears of be­ing slapped down by those who are louder and more force­ful than oth­ers in get­ting their mes­sage across.

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