Clear concerns about wastewater project

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By Sheilagh O’Leary

As a St. John’s city councillor and as chair of the newly reinstated Environmental Advisory Committee for the City of St. John’s, I am writing to voice my clear concern and opposition to the proposal for a wastewater treatment facility that would process petroleum hydrocarbons, total suspended solids, solids, metals typically associated with hydrocarbons, and free oil on Pier 17 right under Battery Road on the City of St. John’s harbourfront.  

I have great reservations about a potential wastewater treatment facility releasing this oil byproduct “to the city’s storm or sanitary sewer.”

I have been having discussions with environmental engineers regarding the potential risks/ill-effects resulting from having such a facility in close proximity to residents of the Battery.

There will also be hundreds of residents in downtown condominium developments that are in process or soon to be developed and anxiety over this application is growing with the public.

I have also been receiving letters of great concern from downtown business owners.

The proponent claimed in recent media that the process is low-risk, however, we can see from our new wastewater treatment facility on the Southside that malfunctions do occur with even the best laid plans and that this is not without risk.

The City of St. John’s has received no application to date and via our development committee, has advised against this proposal due to a lack of substantial information on impacts to date.

How much noise will this facility make?

My understanding is that the residue/sludge requires vacuum removal and existing facilities are known to cause a great deal of noise.

The facility would also be at the mercy of ship scheduling as opposed to a pre-scheduled daytime function.

Oil smells are another concern. There are many regulatory issues to address, but the appropriate location is the utmost concern I have on behalf of Battery residents and the public at large.

The city’s planning department has been doing an excellent job, actively engaging the residents of St. John’s through our city’s municipal plan review process, and residents have voiced a strong desire for a more revitalized, livable harbourfront.

Not downtown

Though I am completely cognizant of the need for such an oil waste production facility, and certainly support good environmental stewardship regarding the safe disposal of oil waste, it does not need be based in the heart of our Battery/downtown area.

This area is one of our city’s biggest assets in regards to provincial and city tourism and such a facility would be in direct conflict with the provincial Tourism Department’s heavily invested promotional efforts.

Our provincial government challenges us all to take an active role in promoting our environment.

Clean air, water and land are priceless natural endowments, and the protection of these resources and of our historic areas such as the Battery bring a wealth of tourism. As individuals, groups and businesses, and government, it is our responsibility to protect and sustain this environment.

Other options for such a facility must be found and I look forward to responses from both Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson and as well, from Sean Hanrahan, CEO of St. John’s Port Authority.

Sheilagh O’Leary is a St. John’s city councillor.

Organizations: Environmental Advisory Committee, Southside, Port Authority

Geographic location: Battery Road

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