Nova Scotia

Shelburne's poor finances may make Ellen Page's well offer a moot point

An offer from celebrity activist and actor Ellen Page to help pay for a well in Shelburne, N.S., is being complicated by the town's poor finances. The town is exploring a cheaper option for a new emergency water source.

Town council endorses exploring a cheaper option for a new emergency water source

Councillors with the Town of Shelburne, N.S., recently voted to explore installing a new community water source at a town-owned building on Hammond Street. (Robert Short/CBC)

Compromise or slap in the face? It depends on who you ask.

Last year, a community group in Shelburne, N.S., made a proposal to town council asking for land and financial support for a new community well. For several years, Shelburne, like other South Shore communities, has struggled with drought conditions in the summer.

Buoyed by an offer from celebrity activist and actor Ellen Page to donate toward the cost of drilling the well, members of the South End Environmental Injustice Society also saw the proposal as a solution to persistent problems people in the south end of town were having with E. coli and coliform in their own wells.

At a recent meeting, town councillors voted to support a staff recommendation to explore bringing a new water source to the south end, but it wouldn't be where the community group wants it and it wouldn't be a well.

A staff report estimates the cost of the well proposal to be about $20,000, which does not include treatment options, security for the site and several other potential costs. That's about double what the society expected the project would cost.

Upgrades to this town-owned shed to allow for community access to the town water supply are estimated to cost about $2,000. (Town of Shelburne)

Instead, staff proposed — and council endorsed — considering converting a town-owned shed on Hammond Street to allow public access to a tap connected to the local water supply. That work, which would include clearing the area around the shed for parking and installation of a hose bib, is estimated to cost about $2,000.

Mayor Karen Mattatall, who noted the shed is not far from the location favoured by the community group, said the Hammond Street site is also more certain when it comes to ensuring people access to water in times of need.

"Drilling a well doesn't guarantee you're going to have good water," she said.

Celebrity activist and actor Ellen Page, who is originally from Nova Scotia, profiled several Nova Scotia communities that have experienced environmental racism in her 2019 documentary, There's Something in the Water. One of the communities is Shelburne. (Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

But Louise Delisle, who has helped spearhead the well proposal, said the shed the town is considering is next to the sewage treatment plant and not a location she expects would sit well with people.

"Nobody is going to want to go down there and get water," she said. "It's almost like a slap in the face."

Delisle's group wanted the well installed at the nearby Roger Grovestine Memorial Recreation Complex. She said having a new source of water independent of anything that already exists is the best option so there would be help even if the town's own water source faced challenges, something the staff report notes could be a future consideration.

Some people in Shelburne would like to see a community well installed at their recreation complex in the town's south end. (Michael Gorman/CBC)

"This would be a source of water if that happened for everybody to use," said Delisle.

She and her group aren't prepared to abandon their idea yet. She said she's hoping to persuade the province to work with them and Page's offered donation to build a well large enough to serve the community.

Tough finances

It may have to come to that regardless of what happens with town council.

Shelburne is facing dire financial circumstances and Mattatall said right now, no option for a new water source is feasible.

"We are not in a position right now to do anything that's going to cost us a significant amount of money," she said.