It was Amy Kilbride's perfect house. It wasn't very big, but it was big enough, and the little two-storey needed a little work, but not too much: Her partner, Noel Taussig, was a carpenter anyway. And the price was right. They bought it. Then one afternoon, in March of this year, a contractor showed up to look at their house.
He checked the water level in their well, examined the foundation and also inspected the house. They had no idea what he was there for.
He told them his company, ACL Construction, had just gotten the contract for a construction project on Herring Cove Road. They were going to get sewer and water and the lines would pass in front of their houses.
This was a pre-blasting inspection.
Blasting? They learned that, as part of a project partly funded by the Harbour Solutions Project, ACL Construction, as the contractor for Halifax Water, would be blasting trenches in Herring Cove Road (most of the area is solid rock), laying water and sewer lines, then covering it up and landscaping it. The sewage lines would connect with the new treatment plant being built just down the road, while the water lines would provide access to city water.
Fast-forward to May 2007. There's a trench carved for the water and sewer lines—at some points up to 18 feet deep, to keep the gravity-fed sewer lines flowing.
The trenches—needed for the deep sewer lines running towards Herring Cove's new treatment plant—may have dried up Kilbride and Taussig's dug well, which their house had been using since it was built in the 1950s. The water level in their well is down three feet. After the blasting work, their pump started sucking air for the first time since they'd moved in.
"Apparently, this can happen in the summer, when it's dry," said Kilbride, "but not spring—there should be lots of water." And it wasn't summer—it was May 17. And it had rained.
"It's very difficult to judge what effects blasting can have on a well," says Charles Stanfield, ACL's project manager for Herring Cove's water and sewer project. Some trenches can be blasted within five feet of a well and have no effect, while further away, a well can go completely dry. We have no control over water flow. It's hard to predict."
Since May, Kilbride, along with 20 other Herring Cove Road residents, has received her water from a tank outside her house, provided and filled by ACL Construction as part of their contract with the city. Once the project is complete and Halifax Water releases a letter saying they're satisfied with the work, the contractor is only obliged to keep filling the tank for one additional month. So, Kilbride either has to truck in water, or pay a contractor $7,000 to hook her up to the city water supply. Stanfield says December 21 is when the work will be complete.
Now she owes the city $20,000—a "betterment charge"—for the two water hookups attached to her property lines by the contractors as they passed her land, which she can pay out over the next 20 years.
Nobody told Kilbride or Taussig this was going to happen. Kilbride moved to the area July 29, 2005, months after a community committee made the decision to blast trenches into the ground to connect the small fishing village and its adjacent homes to municipal water and sewer. She's a stay-at-home mom and Taussig is in school, and working part-time. There isn't much spare cash.
Jamie Hannam, manager of engineering and information services for Halifax Water, says there may be programs to support low-income homeowners with the local improvement charge portion of their bill. "We can help with that." But getting the water from the property line to bathtubs, sinks, and washers—and coming up with the $6,000 or $7,000 to pay for the work—is the homeowner's responsibility.
"The municipality can't be funding private deals," he says. Kilbride is upset that there wasn't more public information for the people who moved into the area after the meeting. "The most annoying thing in the community has been the lack of information given to the community—how, when, and how much it's going to cost," she says. "It would have been nice to be able to start planning financially."