Nova Scotia

Investigation finds raw water went to some Inverness homes after Hurricane Dorian

A taxpayer and a councillor say they've been vindicated after the Nova Scotia Environment Department confirmed that a power outage caused by Hurricane Dorian in 2019 resulted in untreated water going to some homes in Inverness. The taxpayer is now calling for an investigation of the county council.

Environment Department says a power outage from the 2019 storm caused untreated water to enter 8 properties

Inverness County Coun. John MacLennan says he's been vindicated after the province found raw water went to some homes after a power outage caused by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A taxpayer is calling for an investigation into Inverness County council after Nova Scotia's Environment Department confirmed that a power outage caused by Hurricane Dorian resulted in untreated water going to some homes.

Gerard Gillis made the allegation and several other claims in a letter to council in 2019, but the county and its warden at the time, Betty Ann MacQuarrie, said the accusations were without merit and dismissed them.

Gillis said he is now vindicated by the province's findings.

"This justifies one of the items in the letter," he said. "I want to see a breach of confidence, a breach of trust investigation. Whoever would do it, I don't know, but it should be asked for by the council."

Among other things in the letter, Gillis said county administration had failed to install backup generators at the municipality's treatment plants, which caused raw water to get into people's homes.

Records showed the county had budgeted for the generators more than a year earlier, but they were never bought or installed.

At the time, former warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie said council would not take any action on the allegations in Gillis's letter because they were without merit and were untrue. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

In an email Monday, the Environment Department said it had closed an investigation into the water quality complaint and found that eight properties on Banks Road in Inverness had received untreated water after the power outage caused by the storm.

Gillis said that should be enough to convince councillors to start an investigation into all of his complaints.

"In my opinion, they should have stood up when Betty Ann [MacQuarrie] went out and said there was nothing to this, should have went out and said, 'No, there is something to it,' and that's what they didn't do, so now there's an opportunity for them to vindicate themselves," he said.

Coun. John MacLennan initially brought Gillis's letter to an in-camera council meeting containing allegations about hiring and contract improprieties, as well as complaints about the power outage that followed Hurricane Dorian.

Citizen's letter dismissed as untrue

In a December 2019 statement from the county's chief administrative officer and in an interview with CBC News, MacQuarrie said the letter contained "claims that have no merit and information that is untrue and inaccurate."

Council later voted to bar MacLennan from attending in-camera meetings, strip him of his committee duties and take away use of his county email, saying he had breached the code of conduct by discussing the letter's contents publicly.

Eventually, the county issued a new tender and bought and installed generators at all municipal water treatment plants.

"Definitely, I feel vindicated," MacLennan said this week.

"The only thing I was allowed to go to was the council meetings, but right now, with what the Environment [Department] said, there was contaminated water got into the system, so I believe John MacLennan was right and council and CAO were wrong."

Boil water advisory issued 6 days post-Dorian

The province said in an email Monday that the county was ordered to disconnect the Cape Mabou reservoir from the Inverness system to prevent raw water from getting into homes again and that the county had taken steps to alert homeowners in the area about a boil water advisory.

Records show the county issued an advisory for a small number of residences on Banks Road six days after the hurricane landed.

MacLennan said while some area residents complained to him about the taste of the water being a bit off after the storm, no one complained of health or safety concerns.

Gillis said the ordeal has led some people to question his integrity and caused one employer to refuse to hire him.

"It is my hope that the new council will review the water investigation and subsequent issues from [the] letter that still remain unresolved — not unsubstantiated," he said.

Warden Laurie Cranton says there's nothing to investigate because the employee who failed to order and install the backup generators is no longer with the county and the water quality has been fixed. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Warden Laurie Cranton, who was one of the council members who voted to censure MacLennan last year, said there is nothing left from the original letter to investigate.

"I don't think that to say we dismissed it is accurate," he said. "There was a number of inaccuracies in the complaint letter that was written to council."

The employee who failed to order and install the backup generators is no longer with the county and the water quality issue has been fixed, Cranton said.

"I can't find anything that was done that was inappropriate," he said. "I'm just very happy that the situation is dealt with, the residents were properly advised, the boil order was put in place and the system has been upgraded."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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