What does it take to get the government to clean up one of Nova Scotia’s iconic waterways? In the case of the LaHave, it started with a junior high school student, a former provincial cabinet minister and a guy with a cheque for $1 million
As a kid, Stella Bowles was looking for a wrong to be fixed. The wrong: straight pipes that were flushing fecal matter into the LaHave River. “My river was so dirty and adults needed to step up and fix it,” she says.
The LaHave River runs from Annapolis County to the Atlantic Ocean, where it reaches the communities of LaHave, Riverport, Fairhaven Peninsula and the town of Bridgewater. Its 97-kilometre length includes over 600 straight pipes spewing septic waste into the river. Over the years, this was a concern of many local residents who could not safely enjoy the river.
“People hadn’t been swimming in the river,” Elspeth McLean-Wile, chair of the Lunenburg County Community Fund (LCCF), explains. “This was commonly known here.”
McLean-Wile has been living on the South Shore of Nova Scotia since 1983. She says that concern for the river goes way back, that it’s an old problem.
“There was a lot of resistance,” she says. “It didn’t matter which government, didn’t matter the political party, didn’t matter what councillor sat at the table from the municipal level — they all struggled with a willingness to take this on as a project.”
That resistance led Bowles to do a science project on the river in 2015.
“Why were adults allowing this to happen? Was it illegal? Was the water dirty? I had tons of questions and my parents didn’t know the answers,” she says.
Then things slowly began to change.
The Fulcher Foundation
In 1995, Wayne Fulcher and his American wife, Mary Ann, decided to make Nova Scotia their home — specifically, near the mouth of the LaHave River, where his “love affair” with the LaHave River began.
“Any time of the day, it’s extraordinary,” says Fulcher.
It wasn’t until he and his wife attended a presentation from a doctor who was a main driver of the Bluenose Coastal Action group that they learned about its contamination.
“You think that little bit of froth is just froth,” he says. “Eventually you come to learn that the river is polluted.”
The Fulchers were fortunate. Both CEOs of advertising companies, they had resources.
“I learned 50 years ago when I was starting my business that if you want to accomplish something, you can do more if you can leverage what you have, no matter how much or how little. If you leverage it, you actually have the potential to do more.”
Around the same time that Bowles was getting started, the Fulcher Foundation donated $1 million to the LCCF. He says that the money was a commitment contingent on getting other parties involved, “because it’s obvious we’re not going to fix the problem ourselves. We’re not going to fix 800 straight pipes with a million dollars.”
At the time, the LCCF went to the local mayor, Don Downe — former MLA and Minister of Finance in the Russell MacLellan government. When Downe heard that a local person wanted to donate $1 million to the cause, he knew it was a big deal.
“We had been doing some research and we realized there were at least 600 — could be as many as 800 straight pipes going into the LaHave River,” says Downe. “That’s basically the equivalent of a couple of Olympic swimming pools full of pollutants every day.”
Downe reached out to the premier along with colleagues at the provincial and federal levels. “I asked them if they would be interested in applying for any kind of federal assistance, provincial, municipal assistance, in cleaning up the LaHave River as it was so seriously polluted.”
Everyone Downe approached agreed that something needed to be done.
An agreement was made between the municipality and provincial and fed- eral governments. Three levels of government pledged $15 million to help clean up the LaHave River, with the Fulcher Foundation’s contribution used as part of a funding process for homeowners.
McLean-Wile calls the agreement unique. “We don’t think there’s an agree- ment like this anywhere, especially in Nova Scotia.” The $1-million donation was used for homeowners who wanted to borrow money to replace septic pipes going into the LaHave River. Homeowners had the option of paying it back immediately, or they could have it financed over a period of time, paid back through their tax bill.
“So as the money was paid back to the municipality, that money was set aside,” she says. “… And this is to be used to fund similar projects that benefit the municipality.”
“They would be projects, ideally, creating the opportunity for the money to be repaid, so that it could revolve in perpetuity for the benefit of all of Lunenburg County.”
McLean-Wile says that the money is held in a separate trust account of the municipality and was fully repaid by March of last year.
For More Information: The Fulcher Foundation: fulcherfoundation.com Don Downe email@example.com Wayne Fulcher firstname.lastname@example.org The Lunenburg County Community Fund: cfns-fcne.ca/lunenburgcountycommunityfund/