David Devenne, Mayor of Town of Mahone Bay
This interview is part of the Faces of Offshore Resistance project highlighting a number of community activists fighting to protect their homes, coastal communities, fisheries, tourism, and cultural history from the harms of offshore drilling. All photo credit goes to Robert Van Waarden.
Mayor Devenne: I’ve been the mayor since the election of 2016 and prior to that I was the deputy mayor for 8 years.
Robert Van Waarden: What was it like in town and on council when BP’s offshore project was announced?
DD: One of our councillors went to a meeting in Yarmouth and produced a report, so council looked at that report and then were watching the developments within the offshore, and then BP had a spill. A spill which wasn’t supposed to happen, a spill where they’ve taking all the precautions.
They tell us that they are virtually foolproof and that there are blowout preventers, but a blowout preventer that fails or a leak from a well that leaks for a month can cause quite a mess. On the ocean floor and where they’re drilling is one of the prime areas for lobster and groundfish.
So the town council thought it was timely to approach the federal and provincial government and offer a critical comment about the process that was followed to get to a point where the approvals were issued. We needed to express our opposition or our concerns around drilling.
I can appreciate that there are procedures and the government is following those procedures but the question is whether or not the industry is controlled enough to be able to make the likelihood of a blowout even less possible than it is now. And even then, what do they do when it does happen? And it’ll happen!
RVW: Where do you think Mahone Bay and Nova Scotia should be going in terms of fossil fuels?
DD: The drilling offshore is part of the big global environmental picture. The microcosm of that is right here in NS on the south shore, which is the landfall that’s closest to where the drilling is taking place. The south shore in the last 20-25 years has become a tourist focused area. Mahone Bay is a tourist town. We have some big business ventures that anchor the town but for the most part it’s retail that appeals to tourists.
People come here to be by the ocean, to see what goes on around it, the boats are a big draw, the water in front of the three churches. The folklore of wooden boat building – all part of the culture of MB that brings the tourists here., and to Lunenburg or the other places up and down the shore.
If you were to endanger those relatively pristine places you would endanger the lifeblood of the South Shore.
Most of the council supports the idea of environmental protection and on the other hand as a councillor they want to preserve their town for the future. And they’re going to be able to do that by making it more economically sustainable and viable and keeping tourism here in Mahone Bay. They can only do that by keeping waterfront clean and the area around it clean.
RVW: What is Nova Scotia doing? Where are we going?
DD: Mahone Bay has a wind farm. We have 10 wind generators. About 20% of our electricity comes from our wind farm. The potential to expand the wind farm by 4 or 5 wind generators is on the table, as is a solar farm. Each one of those options have issues – although not as dire a consequence for the environment as the fossil fuel pieces.
The world in general is moving away from coal, and Nova Scotia opens a coal mine. You have to give your head a shake! It makes me wonder what the commitment, what the focus is in Nova Scotia for the environment!
Why have we got a new coal mine? Nova Scotia has also established targets for wind power and solar powered electricity. The provincial government is supporting a program for funding for municipalities to establish pilot projects with solar power. But they take with one and give to the other. And what’s caught in the middle is the environment. What we save on wind and solar power we lose because somebody somewhere is burning our dirty coal.
RVW: What is the temperature with the locals on offshore drilling and Mahone Bay’s call for an inquiry?
DD: The general consensus is that people are saying well done on the call for the inquiry. Someone has to make these points for the town. No doubt there are people who would say, ‘look, we need money’. There’s probably one or two people who would put a nuclear power plant at the back of town if they thought it would make a buck, but most people are on board with protecting the environment.
RVW: If you had a message for government what would it be?
DD: You can’t eat oil. That’s it. You can not eat oil. We need the fish, the lobster, the tourism. The tourism is what’s paying the bills for folks in this town. If you own a business or you’re teaching at a school of the children of people who have businesses… it’s a cycle.
This town is about tourism and that tourism flows from the ocean. If the ocean is uninhabitable or at threat or displeasing to people our economic viability is gone.
I would say also that more people are writing to their MP or MLA or Minister responsible to let them know they’re watching what’s going on offshore. We’re watching very closely. If something goes wrong I think there’s going to be an outcry – not an ‘I told you so’ but a ‘Why are we doing this?’