All last summer, media outlets from across the country descended on Lunenburg and called on the town to clean up their much maligned harbour.
Now, after a winter of work, Mayor Rachel Bailey says the town is ready to answer that challenge.
“We’re getting closer to finding a way forward to major improvements for the waste water treatment facility, which ultimately will have a positive impact on harbour health,” she said.
“Basically, it’s all hands on deck for this one.”
She noted the town had received two reports — one from CBCL Ltd. and another from Coastal Action — which are helping to provide a path forward on a complicated issue.
Still, there’s no one straightforward answer to a healthy harbour.
The reports, both submitted in recent months, made numerous recommendations and range in scale from better management of the harbour’s mooring field to a $9.84 million state-of-the-art waste water treatment facility.
But whichever answer council chooses, Bailey said they know they need to get it right.
“We are doing all we know that we can do,” she said.
A new waste water treatment plant?
Town Council was presented with CBCL Ltd.’s waste water treatment plant report on May 23.
Simply put, the report highlighted that several sections of the current waste water treatment plant are heavily corroded, leading to a slip in performance.
“They should be tearing up the streets, running pipelines and getting (the outfall) the hell away from us.”
- Bill Flower, local tour boat operator
The plant is still mostly hitting the federal and provincial biochemical oxygen demand standards but without a significant investment, stated the report, “the performance of the plant is likely to continue to drop until it no longer meets the effluent requirements.”
Bailey said the town has since decided to explore upgrading to a $9.84 million membrane bioreactor system which would significantly improve the effluent quality.
Sarah Ensslin, the CBCL process engineer who presented the report to council, noted the membrane bioreactor system was the golden standard for waste water treatment.
“It is significantly better than what’s required by the province right now,” she said.
When asked about the membrane bioreactor system’s price — it is significantly more expensive to build and maintain than the other options — Bailey said the town needed to make a long-term decision, although nothing has been finalized.
“If we’re going to make a major improvement, it seems wise to do so at the highest level possible,” she said.
Coastal Action presented their report to council on Jan. 22, highlighting “chronic, bacterial pollution in parts of Lunenburg Harbour.”
Shanna Fredericks, assistant director for Coastal Action, said many of the harbour’s issues are due to the location of the waste water treatment plant’s outfall pipe.
“The contamination issue around Fishermen’s Wharf and the effluent pipe is caused, in large part, by the location of the pipe in a constricted, poorly flushed part of the harbour,” she said.
CBCL’s report also noted the use of polymers as part of the problem; polymers are used as thickening agent in waste water treatment.
The polymer mixture, said the report, sometimes looks like sludge, leading to some of the public believing raw sewage is being released directly into the harbour during normal conditions.
Coastal Action recommended moving the outfall further into the harbour but Ensslin said that might not be necessary.
“A (membrane bioreactor system), if properly operated, would produce high quality effluent that is sufficiently low in remaining contaminants that it would not require the outfall to be moved,” she wrote via email.
She added the same system would also eliminate the use of polymers.
However, Bailey stressed the town wasn’t downplaying the issue, especially considering its location to the commercial fishermen.
“It’s a problem,” she said, adding the difficulty lies in finding a long-term fix.
Not enough being done
But Bailey said the town not been sitting still waiting for the reports.
She said the town has moved forward with a number of plant upgrades since last fall, including the installation of a $1.13 million biofilter to address an ongoing odour problem.
A funding application has also been made to increase the plant’s ultraviolet disinfection system, which would help it continue to meet provincial standards for a time.
“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to put that into service this year,” she said.
Still, locals and visitors alike have started to again clamour for the town to act.
Bill Flower, a local tour boat operator and harbour activist, said the outfall pipe has been an issue for 15 years.
And despite the town’s efforts, he said, the harbour’s health is worse than ever.
“They should be tearing up the streets, running pipelines and getting it the hell away from us,” he said, adding his boat is tied up near the outfall and is frequently covered in sludge.
Given that last year’s testing revealed parts of the harbour unsuitable for human contact, Flower stressed the outfall needs to be moved further out from the shore and away from the public.
At this time, he said, it’s unavoidable that people working on the Fishermen’s Wharf come in contact with the contaminated water.
“You can’t be dumping treated or untreated sewage in our place of work,” he said. “Do whatever you have to do but fix it.”
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