Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Grade 7 class at South Queens Middle School was paid a virtual visit by the Honourable Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, on March 1.
The visit was in response to the many letters she had received about the testing the class has done on the Mersey River.
The students have been testing the enterococci (fecal bacteria) levels in the river on a monthly basis since October 2020. Readings have been consistently far higher than what is considered a safe level, and the students now are campaigning for something to be done about it.
"The students had a successful Zoom meeting. They described what they have accomplished in recent months and asked her a series of questions regarding their concerns about the Mersey River and pollution of waterways in Nova Scotia," teacher Jill Leuschner reported to LighthouseNOW in an email.
She said that students felt as though they were listened to and that their "concerns were justified."
Jordan told the students that any clean-up project would have to begin at the municipal level.
"The challenge, of course, is this is very expensive to clean up. That's not an excuse, because we have to do it, but we have to make sure we are working together to do it," Jordan advised. "We will reach out to the municipality and we'll tell them that we had this meeting to see if there is anything that they want to do."
The minister said it was necessary to bring all three levels of government together to make a project of that scale successful.
Leuschner reported that Region of Queens Mayor Darlene Norman has sent a letter to the then Nova Scotia environment minister, Gordon Wilson, regarding the possibility of the province performing parallel testing to verify the students' readings.
Wilson is said to have responded that the province would not take responsibility for carrying out testing and verify the students' findings and that it would be up to a local organization to do so.
According to Leuschner, the school subsequently has teamed up with the non-profit organization Coastal Action to begin parallel testing, "to prove that the results that the students came up with are indeed accurate."
Students hope that once Coastal Action completes its parallel testing, more community members will be behind them to help convince the government that cleaning up the Mersey River should be a priority.