Maritime Electric, a subsidiary of the international power company Fortis, has destroyed what may very well be the most beautiful place in all of Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada. The house near Souris where my mother lives sits on top of a hill overlooking the winding Souris River and Northumberland Strait. She is surrounded by forests, farm fields and rolling hills–with what was, no doubt, one of the most spectacular views on the entire Island. More importantly, she is surrounded by good neighbours, all of whom I know to be good people, and most of whom I have known my whole life. I have grown up and live in the nearby capital city, but I still consider these people my neighbours, even though I see many of them only a handful of times a year.
My neighbours and I are caught in the middle of a high-voltage transmission line expansion, built to service a new wind energy farm at the eastern tip of the province. Fifty-five foot poles now tower over a cluster of homes on the Grant Road hill, where my mother’s house is located, and wind down the road through Gowan Brae, situated at the head of Souris River. These giant poles have enormous, heavily insulated, high voltage power lines. We have serious concerns, not only about the aesthetic impact of this infrastructure, but the health hazards posed by the electro-magnetic fields to our families, and the significant devaluation of our properties the transmission lines bring with them.
It is surprising that the Prince Edward Island government is apparently willing to let Maritime Electric get away with this incursion into our residential area. The only conclusion one comes to is that they have turned a blind eye because the community in question is small, and none of us are wealthy.
What makes this careless destruction of a small rural community so particularly devastating is it was not necessary. My neighbours and family have actively participated, in person and in writing, in a year-long engagement process with the utility and the provincial government. One year ago, Maritime Electric committed to pursuing a bypass away from the homes on Grant Road/Gowan Brae when they planned this new stretch of the transmission grid. For one whole year, the onus was on our community to come up with a bypass route. Guided by criteria outlined by the utility, with the cooperation of several utility employees, we have persevered through some significant setbacks, and have recently succeeded in securing agreement with four very kind local landowners. The stunning generosity and community-mindedness of these cooperative people has been the one bright spot in an otherwise dark and frustrating process.
At the eleventh hour and at the brink of hard-won success, Maritime Electric “ran the numbers” and decided the bypass they worked with us to secure was too expensive after all. At a meeting on Friday, April 20, I was told that the differential cost was about $75,000. This is approximately 2% of the cost for the entire transmission line expansion, estimated at about $3.75 million. According to government sources, it is less than one half of the amount they spent on a botanical analysis and environmental assessment process (required by provincial policy) to safeguard rare flora and ecologically unstable wetlands/streams.
Less than $100, 000 to save a community, and Maritime Electric bows out of a year-long commitment.
It beggars the imagination.
In an effort to channel my anger, simmering over the last 12 months now to a boiling point, I’m going to blog my way into the public domain with this story. I intend, on behalf of our community, to accomplish several things over the life of this blog:
1. This blog will document the story of the abortive Grant Road/Gowan Brae bypass, and show how “efforts to demonstrate goodwill” on the part of Maritime Electric were nothing short of a farce.
2. This blog will critique stated rationales for abandoning the people of Grant Road/Gowan Brae put forth by the utility, and it will systematically critique the government policies and practices that allow them to do this.
3. This blog will outline the spectacular failure of the provincial government to provide leadership and advocacy to rural communities on Prince Edward Island who are bearing the largely hidden burden high-profile energy initiatives.
4. This blog will provide a forum for discussing “power relations” in Prince Edward Island and beyond. There are “inconvenient truths” associated with the construction of power transmission lines, and must be rectified even when they service otherwise positive initiatives like wind farms. This blog is one place these may be addressed in the public arena.
5. Even if we in Grant Road/Gowan Brae fail in this endeavour to protect our homes, this blog will help other communities. Through the information relayed here, they will be able to learn from our experiences, and be alert, ready and informed on tactics that will be brought to bear at such time they must negotiate with power companies.
The way my late father, Dave Mullally, told the story, he was out hunting rabbits one fall day when he came out of the woods at the top of the Grant Road, and “just couldn’t get over the view” of the far-off town, the river, the ocean and the rolling potato fields. My father loved Prince Edward Island. He and my mother, Paulette, bought a lot and a piece of this beautiful place from the O’Keefe family in 1973. They built a house and spent their lives as part of the community on the River, raising five of us in the home at the top of the hill, where my mother Paulette and brother Conor still live.
Last Sunday, April 15, around the time when Fortis/Maritime Electric “ran their numbers” and decided 2% of an infrastructure budget was too great a price to pay to be a good corporate citizen, would have been my father’s 62nd birthday.
6. This blog is a birthday present to his memory.
22 April 2007
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