It must be said, without condition or reservation, that Prince Edward County residents, particularly those living in Picton and Bloomfield, have been well served by their municipal officials over the past couple of weeks. These folks responded with calm, clear and direct action to ward off a threat to the town and village’s water supply. They did it well, and deserve our thanks and praise.
Not for a moment were residents without water—either to drink, to clean, or to cook. Not for a moment was fire protection compromised. The only inconvenience endured was that water had to be boiled before consuming. It could have been much worse.
This was an unquantifiable threat. No one could know for certain that just 30 litres of fuel had spilled into Picton Bay. There were 1,100 litres of petroleum aboard the compromised barge that partially sank at Picton Terminals. Municipal officials had to prepare for the worstcase scenario. Anything less would have been reckless.
These folks make plans for such events, they consider scenarios and test resources from time to time, but until they are thrust into such a dynamic situation—circumstances changing literally with the wind—residents can’t know for certain how they will manage. We do now.
We can all take a considerable comfort, after the events of the past couple of weeks, that we are supported by professional, well trained and disciplined folks managing these vulnerable resources. It is a much more difficult task than it appears.
First, they must do their best to understand the problem on the ground, or water in this case. Circumstances are changing rapidly, becoming more threatening by the hour. They plead for advice and assistance from a buffet of slowmoving, understaffed provincial and federal agencies. They monitor the situation as best they can. And at some point, they must make the decision to shut down the water plant—knowing the cost and the inconvenience is going to be felt widely.
Meanwhile, they have a critical public relations role to fill— keeping residents informed with timely and accurate information as best they know it. But it is more than this—their job is to alert folks to the threat, but not so much as to make them worry needlessly. It is a precarious high-wire act.
Works commissioner Robert McAuley, in particular, stands out this week. For it isn’t entirely about what you do in a crisis, as much as how you do it. McAuley managed the work on the ground, but also projected a sense to the community, through regular press briefings and interviews, that everything that could be done, was being done. Methodically. Systematically. Professionally.That public safety was paramount.
He was patient with questions—answering each fully, clearly and competently. He projected an air of calm and professionalism that gave residents, reporters, provincial agencies, suppliers and neighbouring jurisdictions confidence that the situation was in hand—that we would get through this. Step by step.
Mayor Robert Quaiff, Chief Administrative Officer James Hepburn and fire chief Scott Manlow too, played pivotal roles in steering the municipality through this emergency, providing daily updates and making themselves available for questions. Each deserve our thanks and praise.
There will be quibbling of course. There always is. Those who believe more or less should have been done. Sooner. Or later. Or not at all.
It ought not distract us from the fact that we have all been well-served through this emergency. Municipal systems and processes worked. The source water protection system worked. The raw water sampling system provided early warning of trouble. Emergency protocols clicked into action as practised. Water shuttling processes kept the water flowing.
Our people worked to shield us from harm.
There is a cost to all this. It will be significant. Some businesses have already endured a cost. We will talk more about this next week.
That said, I expect no lasting ill-effects on our economy or its prospects. The County brand is far too powerful to be dented by the events of the past couple of weeks. By Victoria Day most residents will have forgotten the precise details of the past few weeks. The tourism and visitor business will rebound and be a strong as ever. Very soon we will be back to complaining about clogged streets in Picton. Back to normal.
This is because our municipal officials acted with prudence and sure-footedness to ensure that a minor threat was never permitted to blossom into a fullblown catastrophe. This is to their credit and our good fortune.