By Richard Bell
“We’re all just in shock.”
Maggie Wade could not believe her ears. She and a few of her neighbors around Meisner’s Lake in Lower East Chezzetcook were attending a meeting on June 7 called by their MLA Kevin Murphy to talk face-to-face with Margaret Miller, the Minister of the Department of Natural Resources.
Starting in January, several storms had punched holes in the stony berm that protected what had been a freshwater lake from the ocean, killing off the fish in the lake and threatening their wells and their houses. Eight years ago, DNR took immediate action following such a break, but this year, DNR had refused to act.
Only a handful of concerned residents were invited, while DNR’s group included Minister Miller, Deputy Minister Julie Towers, Laura Bignell (Minister’s executive assistant), and four department staff: Walter Fanning, Gordon Delano, Matt Parker, Darrell Comeau. Wade said she was not allowed to bring someone from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or a reporter.
“We thought she was going to start with Kevin’s letter listing our concerns,” Wade said. “Kevin slid her the letter, but she just put it aside and said, ‘Let’s just go around the table.’ And in the end, she never answered those questions. Miller told us two times that she was having the meeting for Kevin’s benefit because he worked so hard on it. So she wasn’t there for us.”
Wade asked Miller “if there was any way we could work together to figure out a cheaper solution, to buy us 20 or 30 years before we lost our properties. Miller told us, ‘No, I’m not into fixing or patching beaches.’”
Then Miller stunned the homeowners. “She told us we should really be talking to HRM because they’re the ones who issued the building permits. Some of these houses were built 70 or 80 years ago! We weren’t even part of HRM then. We’re all just in shock. After six months of asking for help, and she’s telling us DNR’s not responsible!
Wade said she reported DNR’s buck-passing to City Councillor David Hendsbee immediately after the meeting, and that Hendsbee was upset. Hendsbee was not invited to the meeting. In an interview with the Cooperator, Hendsbee said Miller was just flat out wrong. “HRM has no involvement with this problem,” Hendsbee said, “except for possibly emergency evacuation in a storm. This is all provincial or federal. The province is just passing the buck. They did a great repair job eight years ago. Why can’t they just do it again?”
The Cooperator asked DNR for more information about this meeting, and to confirm that Miller had told homeowners to take their concerns to HRM, rather than DNR. A spokesperson for DNR sent the following statement about the meeting:
“The provincial government recognizes that sea level rise and climate change are having an impact on coastal properties and is developing a coastal strategy to mitigate future risk. Minister Miller relayed to community members attending a meeting on June 7 that building permits are a municipal responsibility. The original building locations were approved by the municipality; therefore, they should engage the municipality. Minister Miller also advised that if residents wanted to invest in shoreline protection along their properties the department would assist and assess applications to conduct the work.”