Theresa Brewer stifles a yawn as the Sergeant at Arms escorts another irate citizen up the lectern. She sets her timer for the allotted fifteen minutes he’s allowed to rant about the lakefront condominium development, then continues taking Minutes. She’s never seen so many people out to a Council meeting; every one of the tiered seats is taken and people are standing around the perimeter of the Council Chambers without an inch to spare. All of the regional Councilors are present, as well as Mario DeMarco, representing South Shore Developments. She yawns again, wishing someone would prop open the doors so they could get some air into the stifling room. The air is so thick with heat and heavy with resentment and anger that Theresa feels something is going to happen. Something bad.
She’s felt the mood getting uglier as the evening wore on, with speaker after speaker objecting to the development. But at least it’s been more exciting than the usual endless motions about by-laws, noise ordinances, tax levys and garbage pick up, all typically carried and passed with no discussion or opposition. The controversy and public debate around this lakefront development has been growing louder and more heated over the past year, which at least kept the long workday less boring. Apart from the tension and anger sparking through the room, tonight’s meeting feels special because her husband is scheduled to speak. She’s even dressed her best for the occasion.
The timer alarm goes off and the Chair dismisses the speaker, then Gabriel is escorted to the lectern. Theresa pauses to admire her handsome husband before turning back to the Minutes. She gives him a little wave but he doesn’t look in her direction. Disappointment stabs her in the chest. Of course she understands he needs to look professional. Still, a smile would have been nice, she allows herself to think and she makes a point of not setting the timer to give him all the time he wants.
“Good Evening, Madame Chair. I’m Gabriel Brewer,” he says. “I’m an environmental consultant in the region.” There’s loud applause through the Council Chambers as he holds up a large plastic bottle filled with a thick emerald green liquid. It looks like a spinach and avocado smoothie. Theresa beams with pride but keeps her head down.
“Earlier today this…water,” he pauses for dramatic emphasis, “was collected from Lake Erie, from the near the Town’s water intake crib.” He slams the bottle down on the podium and a rumble of disgust goes through the crowd. “The Harmful Algae Bloom’s biomass is now over six hundred square miles in size, having doubled in just the past week.”
“Algae stains our shorelines and beaches for miles. It smells terrible. It looks disgusting. Would you want to swim in it? Or God forbid, drink this?” He holds the bottle up so the entire audience can get a good look at it.
“The extreme heat this year has warmed the lake temperature early, and that has triggered rapid growth. Who’s gone out for a swim? Who’s been fishing lately?”
“No point fishing the Western Basin anymore,” shouts one old fisherman from the back of the room. “It’s all dead between July and November.”
Gabriel Brewer smiles and toasts the fisherman with the bottle of slimy green water. Theresa can feel the energy rise in the room as everyone starts talking at once.
“Mr. Brewer,” the Chair tries to take back control of the proceedings. “We’ve heard this before, in our last session. Have you anything new to add?”
“We know it’s caused by fertilizers used in the agriculture industry,” Gabriel continues as if she hasn’t spoken. An angry rumble starts at the back of the room and Tom Lacey, followed by two other farmers, pushes his way up to the lectern. They aren’t even scheduled to speak but nobody would dare ask Tom Lacey to wait his turn. He’d probably knock them over.
“The run-off flows into rivers and ends up in the lake, where it feeds the algae.” Gabriel starts to speak faster and raises his voice to be heard over the coming disruption. “Studies have demonstrated we need to create a retention pond to slow it down. And that’s why we need to ensure the DeMarco quarry remains…”
Tom Lacey pushes past the Sergeant at Arms and Gabriel Brewer quickly steps out of his way, leaving the bottle behind.
“You know who I am,” Lacey begins, standing at the lectern. “And who the rest of us are.” He motions carelessly to the men standing behind him.
“We object to your blaming us farmers for the problem with the water in the lake,” he turns to the audience, looking for Brewer. Theresa feels her heart start to pound with fear. What if Lacey decides to go after her husband?
“We’re all organic farmers and have been for generations. I don’t fertilize. I don’t even take from the water table for irrigation. We’re not the cause of this. It’s you,” he points to DeMarco, “who’s ruining our lakefront with your development. And it’s you,” he points at each one of the Councillors in turn. “You’re the real problem here. You’re all in the pockets of the damn developers. How much do you charge him to get his approvals? What’s the price for selling out our heritage, eh? What’s he paying you to sell us all down the river?”
People in the audience start stamping their feet and shouting Hear! Hear!
“Order, please,” the Chair shouts, banging her gavel. “Order Mr. Lacey! Or I’ll have you forcibly removed.”
Lacey can see the elderly Sergeant at Arms start to approach him and he laughs. He could easily knock him into the next room.
“Over my dead body!” He picks up the bottle of green water Gabriel Brewer left on the lectern and hefts it in his hand, considering for a moment, then he hurls it at the Councilors. It hits the head table and cracks open, its contents exploding over their paperwork as Lacey turns on his heel and leaves the Council Chambers, the door slamming behind him. The other farmers follow him out.
Gabriel steps back up to the lectern as everyone is doing their best to mop up the stinking mess.
“As you are aware, or as you should be, given your positions,” he looks at each of the City Councillors in turn, “the algae bloom has been getting worse every year. It thrives on heat and sunshine–exactly what we have to offer the thousands of tourists who visit our beaches every summer. I have serious concerns about local water quality, and how the proposed development will affect it–how it’s already affecting it.”
Mario DeMarco takes a deep breath and holds up his hand to interrupt Gabriel. “We’ve done studies…”
“Fuck your studies,” a voice shouts from the audience. Lacey’s outburst seems to have unhinged the audience and the mood is ugly.
DeMarco tries to continue. “And we’ve done all the required appropriate habitat protection, as per Ministry guidelines…”
“We’re sick and tired of hearing about all your damn studies, your analyses, your projections,” someone from the audience shouts, punching the air with his fist to punctuate his words. “It’s all crap.”
“You’re all corrupt!”
“On the take!” “Crooks!” “In each other’s pockets!”
The audience leaps to its feet. People are shouting and swearing. Someone throws a chair against the wall. The Chair is pounding her gavel trying to call the room to order as the Sergeant at Arms falls back in a panic.
Theresa hears the roar of an engine and then an ear splitting crash. Glass shatters as a pickup truck drives in through the heavy wooden doors of the Council Chambers, smashing them to splinters. People scream and shove each other, rushing to get out of the way as the truck ploughs into the room, crushing the benches and folding chairs before it comes to a rest near the lectern. Tom Lacey is at the wheel.