AMHERST, N.S. – People living near the Dexter Construction asphalt plant have had enough.
About 20 protesters gathered across the street from the plant on Anson Avenue in Amherst on July 10.
“We can’t open the windows at the school, and I live on top of the hill and there’s a blue haze in my back yard constantly,” a protester who works at the nearby West Highlands Elementary school said. “I work at the school, so I live in it and I work in it.”
The protester, who wished to remain anonymous, says she didn’t set up her swimming pool this year.
“I didn’t set my pool up because the smell is so bad that I’m not going to sit there and watch kids in a pool while I’m choking to death. So I said I’m not doing it this year. I’m done.”
She lives in a home her grandparents bought in the 1940s and says the haze has become unhealthy for the entire community.
“There’s people in this community not in the best of health that can’t sit outside for a breath of fresh air in the evening or open their windows because they’re choking to death,” she added. “It’s a grey-bluish haze that sits up on top of that hill.”
Crystal Gould was at the protest as well. She lives about 100 metres up the street from the plant.
She says she’s constantly washing the soot from her home and her vehicles.
“I can’t hang clothes out, I can’t open windows, and I can’t save on water and power because we have to wash our house.”
Margaret Pettigrew lives across the street from Gould and was at the protest as well.
She grew up in Amherst and has lived near the plant for 21 years. She says black smoke often emanates from the asphalt plants smokestack, and that she has to wash black soot from her car as well. She also says the haze is nothing new.
“We signed petitions over the years, but we’ve never gone this far and had a protest.”
Pettigrew has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and needs to bring an oxygen tank with her when she goes for a walk. She had her oxygen tank with her at the protest.
She said she used to be a smoker and, therefore, doesn’t blame the asphalt plant for her COPD. “But I know the plant doesn’t help,” she added.
Pettigrew is most concerned about the kids in the neighbourhood.
"That’s what concerns me most, not me, but the kids and the little babies. You have to give them a chance," she said. "And now they have the new school up there."
Dean Greenough, general manager for Dexter Construction, Valley Division, spoke to the protesters but said he would only speak to them on the condition that the media was not present.
After the protest, Town of Amherst councillor Terry Rhindress said that Greenough told the protesters that Dexter Construction is looking for a new location.
“He’s going to back to the Dexter outfit and they’re going to look at a piece of land somewhere out in the county,” said Rhindress. “We need to keep the pressure on them because, as a councillor, I know it’s been an issue for years.”
Rhindress says one solution may be to build the plant on Little Forks Road, near the Cumberland Central Landfill site.
“The plant used to be smaller but now it’s getting bigger. It’s going to keep growing, and it can’t grow any bigger here,” said Rhindress. “They’re at a maximum space, so they’re looking for a piece of land.”
Ron Dobson has lived beside the plant for 40 years and has complained about the asphalt plant for several years. He was at the protest and spoke both publicly and privately with Greenough.
“The way I understand him is that they’re looking, and not looking to move. You get different answers.”
Paul Farrow organized the protest.
“They say they’re looking for a piece of land, so that’s good news,” said Farrow, adding he remains sceptical.
Farrow warns that if change doesn’t come, the protests will only grow.
“This is just the beginning,” said Farrow, while discussing with other protesters the possibility of holding a large rally at the West Highlands gymnasium.