September12, 2012 The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis regrets that most of them are withdrawing their current complaint before New Brunswick’s Mining Commission relating to issues of subsidence up to July 15th, 2010.
Since losing their well water in 2004, citizens of Penobsquis have faced numerous hurdles to obtain justice.
While issues related to lost water in wells and springs were resolved in June, (after 8 years of attempts to hold PotashCorp responsible), issues related to mining subsidence damages to homes and properties have remained before the New Brunswick Mining Commissioner. Experts have been impossible to source due to conflicts of interest or cost — even the cost of the transcript of the hearing has precluded the group from obtaining a copy for their own use. Repeated requests to the Commissioner to seek third party advice of his own have been turned down at the hearing.
The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis would like to thank the numerous groups and individuals that have assisted them and donated to their cause. Without these groups and individuals there is no way we could have come as far as we have. We acknowledge though, that even with this substantial assistance, obstacles have been just too great to overcome.
There are several other ongoing impacts that the Mine is having on citizens of Penobsquis and the group is committed to continuing to address these and the subsidence issues.
While the mine admits openly to the subsidence they are causing, and employees admitted under oath that the water table is a foot closer to the surface, CCP recognizes that they have not connected the damages they are facing and the subsidence damage. Unfortunately under the current law the burden of proof has been forced upon them. CCP is relieved that those that may be impacted by the operations at PotashCorp’s new mine will now be more protected as the government has made it a requirement that PotashCorp will have to prove they are not at fault. CCP believes this reverse onus should be applied to ALL mining operations within New Brunswick and would like to call upon the government to do so.
CCP would like to also call upon the government to make transcripts available to all New Brunswicker’s for any public hearings in the future. If hearings are truly public, in this digital era, it should be easy for all public transcripts to be accessible to all New Brunswicker’s. Other hearings provide free transcripts accessible on-line, and the CCP is puzzled at the government’s inability to do so in this case.
No group of regular New Brunswicker’s should be forced to face damage at the hands of a large corporation, with no way to source the required legal counsel, expert witnesses, or even a copy of the transcript of the proceedings.
The New Brunswick government should be standing up for citizens.
Penbosquis claimants and PotashCorp are both done arguing their case before the Mining Commissioner. The hearings will resume in September at the All Seasons Restaurant in Sussex.
The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis is continuing to raise money to deal to cover the costs of the hearing. These costs include experts, and the cost of transcripts of the past hearing dates. (Cost $2.25/page)
If you can offer support by attending the hearing, or by contributing through the Canary Institute http://www.canaryinstitute.ca/ (please make sure to mark your donations for the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis)
The Complainants have found that the government employees that have testified over the last several weeks seem to have no, or very little knowledge of the subsidence and other ground movements in the Penobsquis area. While this is extremely concerning, it is also forcing the Complainants to seek their own outside expertise. This will only come at a cost.
The group needs funds to assist with the costs of proceeding. If you are able, please considering donating through the following group and you will receive a tax receipt.
Thank you to everyone that came out and supported us this week at the Mining Commission Hearings. We appreciate it and you do make a difference doing this.
The hearings resume October 26th, 27th, 28th, 2011 at 9 30am at the All Seasons in Sussex. Dates have also been scheduled for November 9th, 10th, 28th, 29th, and 30th.
After many requests – We are pleased to now be able to link to the study PotashCorp did for the government to determine what happened to our water. Please click on the first of the 4 links below to start. The file was so large we had to break it down to four peices.
Now certainly the story of Penobsquis is not only about water.
The story of Penobsquis is a cautionary tale for the rest of the province though, and it would serve other citizens of the province well if they became more aware of Penobsquis circumstances so it does not happen to them.
In 2004, Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (PCS) undertook
a round of seismic testing that included an area over top of their mining
operation in Penobsquis. The mine workings roughly follow Route 114, the old Trans Canada Highway, in Penobsquis. This area was part of the seismic testing which included the detonation of dynamite charges. There were reports of homes shaking from the blasts, and homeowners finding muddy water the next time they turned on their taps.
Residents quickly linked their lost wells and springs, and the increase in water inflow that the mine was having at the time. Officials in the Provincial Department of Environment and Local Government also believed the mine was responsible for the dry wells and springs.
After this connection was made it seemed to also make sense to residents that wells and springs that went dry in the late 90’s, when the water inflow problem at the mine was just beginning, were likely related to the
same circumstances. PCS had started trucking water away in the late 90’s.
Community meetings were held. The media ran and aired stories after
interviewing affected residents. Affected residents and the Local Service District Advisory committee met with government officials to find a resolution.
While most attributed the problems to the mine, it was acknowledged that it would need to be ‘proven’. The government formed a water committee consisting of the Mine Manager, the Mayor of Sussex, the Mayor of Sussex Corner, and the Chair of the Local Service District Advisory Committee. Immediately after this committee’s first meeting the government met with affected residents to advise them a solution was on the way. The Chair of the Local Service District Advisory committee agree to the new water committee without consultation with the rest of his LSD committee.
Tanks were installed in basements and sheds on the properties of those with no water, or riley water. These tanks were filled by water trucks for
the next 5 years as the province planned for a Regional Water Supply
system. The costs of the tanks, pumps, and water deliveries (2-3 times per week) were covered by the provincial government with tax dollars. PCS, describing themselves as ‘good corporate citizens’, supplied bottled water to those affected.
The government said it would commission a study to look into where the water went. Residents felt there was a need to prove it was the mine so that the mine could absorb the costs of the system. The government
drafted parameters for the study. Then the government forwarded the parameters to staff at the mine. The government then revised the parameters for the study, and the mine paid for the study.
When residents became aware of how the parameters for this study were drafted (after a request under the right to information act) some
were infuriated at the extent of PCS’ involvement in this study of where the water went. A copy of the documents received under this right to information act request can be found at http://www.penobsquis.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/19.pdf
While this new system was being planned residents of Penobsquis were told that they would get to run the system with their own water mission, and that initially no water would be supplied to the communities of
Sussex and Sussex Corner. There had initially been concerns about the inclusion of the town and village on the water committee, as some believed this indicated that any water source for the residents of Penobsquis would need to be big enough for the residents of Sussex
and Sussex Corner too. There were also concerns that including other jurisdictions would slow the process down.
Repeated new dates were given for the new water system. People suffered hardships while water was delivered. Cleanliness and safety of the water was questioned by residents (after seeing the leaky hoses wrapped up with grass clippings and dog feces) and the Department of Public Health became involved. It was not unusual to have clippings or other material floating in the tanks or even bath water. After numerous complaints, and media stories about different residents with tanks having problems with rashes, the government installed filtration systems on the water tanks.
Basements were flooded when there were accidents with the delivery of water. Some homeowners had to heat un-insulated sheds that held their water tanks, so that the water would not freeze. Doors and windows had to be left open during water deliveries losing heat from homes. People left their homes unlocked or had hidden keys so that water delivery could take place when they weren’t home. New paths had to be shovelled for water deliveries, and seniors depended on neighbours to lift heavy water bottles on water coolers. Opening your home to water deliveries, even though there were very respective delivery people, had muddy boots in your home, perhaps up and down the basement stairs a couple of times a week.
In the end the provincial government put in a $10 million municipal style water system. PCS contributed $1.2 million to this system. Residents were perplexed as the system became closer to going ‘on-line’ and despite repeated requests, the formation of a water commission was repeatedly
delayed. Ire was also raised when residents found out they would be required to pay an annual fee for water.
As time went on the government signed over operating authority to the Village of Sussex Corner. Penobsquis residents were granted 3 people on the 8 member water committee. In addition to the 3 elected members from Penobsquis, there were 4 members from the Village of Sussex Corner, and a non-voting representative from the provincial overnment. Any decision made by this committee still had to be ratified by Village Council. Penobsquis residents were not in a controlling position for their own wa ter.
As it came closer to the time for the system to come ‘on-line’, residents were told they would need to sign a contract to be hooked up to the new water system. Residents had concerns about this, not least of which was a clause that would hold them accountable if there were any issues with the lateral connecting their houses to the system. With subsidence and
ground movement in the area due to the mining activity, and with PCS not willing to disclose amounts and rates, concerns were raised that the ground movements would impact the system and individual homeowners would have to bear the costs even if it were not their fault.
The contract also told residents in the rural community that the water
could not be used for livestock, watering gardens, washing vehicles, filling swimming pools, and other like uses that residents had normally used their wells for in the past.
A group of homes held out on signing these contracts until they were served notice by the province they would no longer be providing water
deliveries to the tanks. En masse most of the hold outs went to the Village office and signed the contracts as there was no other way for them to get water.
One gentleman in the community still refuses to sign and obtains
non-potable water from the roof of his garage and obtains potable water from other sources.
During the issue of signing water contracts with the Village of Sussex Corner, discussions took place between residents and the Mayor. It was only after the contracts were signed,and the Council still saying they would not revise them, that it became apparent that the Mayor hadn’t been straightforward with Council with what was going on.
At the beginning of 2011 the water system was handed over to a private company based out of Saint John. The community of Penobsquis has no control over water they have to pay for. Despite the water system being
functional since May 2009 there is still no wellfield protection in place and no backup well. PCS uses approximately 50% of the water from this system for which they contributed 12% of the construction costs.
Some people in Penobsquis say they feel their water has been privatized twice. When Industry started pumping water out of the ground, and when the system was given to others outside the community to run.
Now the story of Penobsquis is not only about water….
The government of New Brunswick is hitching their cart to potash and shale gas. But Penobsquis is the canary in the potash mine and the gasfield!
New Brunswickers have been learning about how industry and government have been treating residents of Penobsquis – homes sinking, land sliding, water lost, air threatened, and lives ruined. We’ve been learning that when big industry sets up in New Brunswick, the community sacrifices and does not get compensated. Our provincial government has not been standing up for New Brunswickers.
How can they say things will be different for communities sacrificed for shale gas?
Penobsquis is looking for compensation from the Mining Commissioner. Please show your support for them, and the future of all our communities.
The hearings are taking place inside the All Seasons Inn (1015 Main Street) on Sept. 14-16. The hearings are open to the public and people are also encouraged to attend any or all three days. Those attending may wish to don a “canary” – canary hats, facemasks or a “canary on your shoulder” — be creative and send a message!
The Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis has been fighting for justice in their community over lost water, land subsidence and dust, noise, light pollution, lost property values and ongoing disruption to their quality of life. Sixty water wells were lost in Penobsquis affecting upwards of 200 people. The wells were lost at the same time that Potash Corporation was conducting a round of seismic testing (the same process many communities are facing from the oil/gas industry). Residents reported hearing and seeing the blasts that are a part of the seismic testing, and noticing dirty water, or total loss of water not long afterwards.
Residents speak out in this sneak preview of a film being made about Penobsquis:
A group of Penobsquis homeowners are taking action against PotashCorp for damages resulting from their mining activities. Since discussions with the government of New Brunswick and PotashCorp have failed to adequately address concerns, these residents are forced to take the next step as directed by the Mining Act, and have filed a claim with the Mining Commissioner. The Penobsquis Mining Commission Hearing occurred during the summer months of 2011 and is set to continue in September. The hearings, open to the public, have and will continue to occur at the All Seasons Inn in Sussex at 1015 Main Street.
On June 20th, 2011, two sisters, Brendalee Morrell and Cynthia McEwen, testified about the damage done to their seventh generation family farm. They described a sinkhole that turned up in the middle of their field, about wires that were found from what appeared to be an unexploded seismic charge when they were cutting wood, and about the damage their property has suffered due to the loss of water, subsidence, drill holes and a PotashCorp well pad that effectively makes 26 acres of the farm inaccessible. Brendalee spoke of the heartache of thinking she can’t pass the farmland onto her children – what would be the eighth generation. Cynthia spoke about being scared to farm the land – with sinkholes, subsidence monuments in fields and the other damage. She said it was like a “war-zone”
The case filed with the Mining Commissioner is a precedent-setting case and of particular importance to those fighting shale gas. If the damage to the community of Penobsquis is not acknowledged by our government, we can expect the same treatment if other wells are contaminated or lost or our air is poisoned in the shale gas sacrifice zones.
“We don’t want this to happen to any other community. If PotashCorp is not held accountable this could happen in any other community. It may not be a potash mine, but there are many proposed and ongoing projects in the province, and all have associated risks. We are not pushing to stop business from happening. We only want to ensure that these projects provide compensation if they cause damage to individuals,” said Beth Nixon, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis.