Margaret Atwood joins effort to cover cost of environmental study at Pelee Island Co-op

Bananas and the Pelee Island Co-op saved Margaret Atwood and her partner Graeme Gibson one April when they were stranded without food. Now, with the century-old institution struggling to cover the cost of an order from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, it's Atwood's turn to help save the Co-op.

'It's our gas station, our post office, our grocery store and hardware store,' said mayor

The Pelee Island Co-op is fundraising to pay for a $80,000 environmental study ordered by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. (Pelee Island/Indiegogo)

Bananas and the Pelee Island Co-op saved Margaret Atwood and her partner Graeme Gibson one April when they were stranded without food.

Now, with the century-old institution struggling to cover the cost of an order from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, it's Atwood's turn to help save the co-op.

"Fingers crossed that beautiful #PeleeIsland will not be shut down by forced gov't closure of its Co-Op," the award-winning author tweeted on Jan. 15.

Her post included a link to an Indiegogo campaign aimed at helping to cover the $80,000 cost of an environmental study of the land around its storage site by Scudder Harbour.

People rely on the Co-Op. It's a crucial part of Island life.- Margaret Atwood, author

As part of the fundraising effort, Atwood shared a story of how the co-op sustained her when the ferry wouldn't run and the air service had ended so there was no new food coming to Pelee.

"I took to foraging, and was digging up young dandelion greens on the lawn when the Vulture Migration came through. The vultures settled into the trees around me and watched in an interested manner: when was I going to keel over?" she wrote."In our food-scarce condition, we did luckily have the Co-Op. Things sold out quickly, but luckily they'd had a large shipment of bananas just before transportation failed. We ate a lot of bananas, but at least we ate. People rely on the Co-Op. It's a crucial part of Island life."

(Aadel Haleem/CBC)

A summary posted on the campaign page by Suzanne Friemann explains the area surrounding th co-op was contaminated by hydrocarbons from fuels and oils that seeped into the soil of the industrial area over the past 100 years.

The co-op accepted responsibility for the only documented spill at the site — 680 litres of diesel fuel — and now the ministry is holding it responsible for cleaning up the surrounding properties.

Efforts to remove the contaminates were successful, reaching a remediation level of 75 per cent, according to Friemann. But after a fire damaged the equipment used for the clean up, contamination levels returned to the original, problematic levels.

If the co-op were to close it would be economically devastating to the community.- Rick Masse, Pelee Island Mayor

Pelee Island Mayor Rick Masse said the co-op has spent more than $250,000 on the clean up, but this latest order from the ministry threatens to close the cash-strapped organization and could endanger the future of the island.

"It's our gas station, our post office, our grocery store and hardware store," he explained. "Obviously if you can't get fuel the municipality would be in big trouble because it would not be able to operate. We're required to use diesel pumps to keep the water out. If there's no fuel available during the winter there's the potential for flooding."

Study for future cleanup plans

Islanders plan to match the $20,000 goal set for the Indiegogo campaign with donations of their own, then apply for a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipal Fund to cover the remaining $40,000.

The study will help the ministry and people on Pelee to create a plan for further cleanup in the future.

Masse thanked Atwood and Gibson for their support, describing them as "great advocates for Pelee. He hopes their involvement will encourage others to support the co-op.

"People understand Pelee Island is Canada's southernmost remote community," he said. "We need to store enough fuel to last us four months over the winter period. If the co-op were to close it would be economically devastating to the community."