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Harbour Grace couple living without power for over a year

Tammy Whalen placed this sign on her front door following issues regarding unpaid bills.
Tammy Whalen placed this sign on her front door following issues regarding unpaid bills.

HARBOUR GRACE, NL — Living without lights, electricity, water or sewage may sound impossible in this day and age, but for one Harbour Grace couple, it’s been a year-long reality.

Tammy Whalen has lived in her home on Harvey Street for the last 21 years. The home is hard to miss with its vibrant purple colour scheme. Now, however, Whalen’s put up a sign on her front door, hoping to catch the attention of passersby for a much different reason.

The cardboard sign, signed at the bottom by Whalen herself, states that she has been without a proper inspection since last year, and that her lack of power can be traced back to the Town of Harbour Grace.

“No questions or comments. I can’t take it anymore. Direct it to the town,” the sign reads.

Whalen lives in the house with her partner, Richard Forward, and her youngest son. Whalen and Forward told The Compass their situation spiraled out of control following an unpaid town council bill dating back a couple of years.

The bill in question covers water and sewage for the home. If unpaid, the home in question will have those services shut off until the bill is paid again.

Whalen acknowledges the fact that she has an unpaid bill relating to water and sewer. Her access to light and power, however, is a completely different bill, and one that Whalen says she has paid.

“The fact that we have no power coming to this house makes no sense,” said Whalen. “I don’t owe any light bills, and whether or not I owe the town for water should have nothing to do with my lights or my power.”

Forward, Whalen’s partner, has been actively trying to settle what he believes was a miscommunication between the parties involved. Forward told The Compass he feels as though it is his place to do so, as Whalen struggles with severe mental health issues.

“I stand up for her because she can’t properly do it herself,” Forward said, to which Whalen agreed. “I’m not going to let them bully her. She’s in a hard situation, and it shouldn’t be like this.”

Whalen explained that these same mental health issues are what forced her out of her job at the Harbour Grace Cold Storage.

According to Whalen, all she needed to get proper power in her home is an inspection from Newfoundland Power, as those bills were paid for.

Whelan said an inspector told her that Newfoundland Power were instructed by the Town of Harbour Grace not to come to Whalen’s home until her town council bill was paid.

Whalen told The Compass she believes the town council bill, which gets bigger every year as it goes unpaid, should be no more than $4,000 or $4,500.

Mayor responds

However, Mayor Terry Barnes told The Compass the following day that the amount of money owed by Whalen reaches into the $7,000 range.

Barnes also explained that council does not have direct control over these sorts of goings on in the town.

“If someone is not paying their bills, their resources get cut off, plain and simple,” explained Barnes. “We as council don’t do that. If you’re not paying your bill, your water and sewage is cut off, and then we hear about it after the fact. Councillors, or anyone who has a seat on council, don’t pick and choose who gets to keep their water and who doesn’t.”

Barnes also explained that Newfoundland Power was not told directly by the town to not inspect Whalen’s home. Instead, Barnes stated that Newfoundland Power came to them, questioning Whalen’s standing with the town following other unpaid bills.

“They called us, because she hadn’t paid a light bill, and we said that she owed a lot of money,” Barnes said. “If you’re not paying your bills, you can’t expect things to just continue going on like they always have been. Council’s hands are tied in this situation.”

Whalen and Forward explained to The Compass how they’ve been living over the past year and some months. Whelan relies on monthly Employment Insurance, which she says nets her approximately $900 a month. However, she went on to explain that about $600 of that goes into running a gas-powered generator throughout the day, resulting in very little money for her to properly pay her unpaid bill.

“I take my bike down with a 22-litre container, fill that up with water, and that’s what we’ll use for cooking, cleaning, whatever else,” said Forward.

Whalen also explained that the support of her friends and family has been a major factor in the situation thus far, having to go to relative’s homes to bathe.

Confrontations

Barnes told The Compass he’s had personal issues with Forward since the situation first erupted.

“Every time I go down to Ultramar, they’re outside their house, yelling at me, saying whatever they can to me,” said Barnes. “But I’m the mayor. I’m a representative of the town, I’m not going to go get a peace bond or something against a resident. My lawyer wrote Forward a letter instructing him to keep out of it, and that’s as far as that’s gone.”

Barnes went on to say that although neither he nor council has played a direct role in the ordeal, he plans to do so in the future.

“Municipal elections are coming up in September. If I’m still mayor come then, I’ll make sure there’s some kind of investigation into this,” said Barnes.

The Compass contacted Newfoundland Power for comment, but did not receive a response prior to deadline.

“I just want my lights, my power back, that’s all. I’m tired of being treated like some kind of criminal,” said an emotional Whalen. “It’s just not fair.”

chris.lewis@cbncompass.ca

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