New Brunswick

West Saint John group asks integrity commissioner to force release of water information

A group of residents in west Saint John is calling on the province's integrity commissioner to order the city and the Department of Environment to immediately release documents related to their new water source.

West Side Ratepayers Association wants water quality data and environmental impact assessment documents

The West Side Ratepayers Association says the South Bay well field 'sits in a virtual bowl of risk,' containing residential development, gravel pits, a construction and demolition waste dump, a railroad line, a pipeline corridor, drainage ditches and two sewage lift stations. (Saint John Water)

A group of residents in west Saint John is calling on the province's integrity commissioner to order the city and the Department of Environment to immediately release documents related to their new water source as many continue to deal with hard water, leaking pipes and costly repairs.

The West Side Ratepayers Association had previously requested water quality data from the city and environmental impact assessment information from the province, said spokesperson Paul Groody.

"This is public information; information we all have every right to see," he said.

"It is needed urgently to help restore confidence in our water system."

About 5,600 customers in west Saint John were switched over to water drawn from the South Bay well field instead of the Spruce Lake reservoir in September, as part of the Safe Clean Drinking Water project.

Since then, residents and business owners have faced burst pipes, water heaters breaking down, discoloured water and irritated skin, prompting the creation of the association in February "as a forum for information and dialogue and … as a voice for ratepayers."

Groody, who served as the city's commissioner of municipal operations, including water, for 13 years before he retired in 2011, and has lived on the west side for about 30 years, is now chairman for the group.

On May 23, he wrote to Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes, requesting the release of all public documents related to the South Bay well field "without delay."

"We trust that you will understand the urgency of our request and will instruct both the province and the city to do what is right."

This does nothing to ease the concerns of west side residents, many of whom continue to suffer emotionally, physically and financially.- Paul Groody, West Side Ratepayers Association

Deschênes could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.

The city is required to monitor water quality, but has not released any results since switching to the well field last fall and refuses to speak with the association or any west side residents about their concerns, said Groody.

Meanwhile, the association filed a Right to Information request with the Department of Environment and asked the minister to intervene, but has been told environmental impact information may not be released until late July, he said.

"This does nothing to ease the concerns of west side residents, many of whom continue to suffer emotionally, physically and financially," said Groody.

Many people have resorted to drinking bottled water and investing in water-softening systems, while already paying the highest water rates in the province, he said.

Communication, not litigation

The city has has said it is following legal advice to restrict its dealings with west side ratepayers, given a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of some west side residents alleging negligence and breach of contract.

But Groody stressed that the association is not involved in the lawsuit.

"We are working to try to find resolution to a problem," he said, describing drinking water as the "lifeblood" of every community.

"We believe that there are options and we think if people come to the table that we can work out solutions that are in everybody's best interest."

Groody contends going through the courts will be very expensive and take a long time, and he doesn't believe it's in the best interest of the city, ratepayers or council.

More than 350 people have signed up to be part of the class action so far. None of the allegations have been proven in court and the lawsuit has not yet been certified.