How do you undo the wounds of wastewater debate?
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.