Lunenburg lands funds to address smelly sewage plant

The Town of Lunenburg, N.S., is getting government funds to fix its long-standing sewage stench, but not everyone in the seaside community is happy about it.

Fisherman Bill Flower says the town should have put the money toward dealing with sewage in the harbour

The Town of Lunenburg announced Sept. 29 that $1.1 million will go toward the construction of a new biofilter to deal with the sewage plant's odour issues. (CBC)

The Town of Lunenburg, N.S., is getting government funds to fix its long-standing sewage stench, but not everyone in the seaside community is happy about it.

On Friday, the town announced more than $1.1 million will go toward installing a biofilter to deal with odours emanating from the sewage treatment plant. For years, residents who live near the Starr Street facility have complained about the foul smell that drives them inside and potential homebuyers away.

The town applied for the money in the spring after other wastewater projects came in under budget, said Deputy Mayor Peter Mosher. The town initially didn't ask for federal help for the problem-plagued sewage plant when funding for such projects was made available last year. 

The biofilter project will be cost-shared between the federal and provincial governments, with Lunenburg pitching in about 25 per cent, or $240,000.

"It's an important issue that needs to be done and that's why we're going ahead with it," said Mosher. "We had all the engineering ready. It can happen relatively expediently as opposed to any other project we might do."

According to the town's funding application, construction of the biofilter could be completed by spring 2018. 

But Lunenburg resident Ronald Thurlow, who lives near the plant and is used to shutting his windows and doors to keep the smell out, says he's not holding his breath just yet. 

"I have to wait and see. That's about it," he said.

'What a joke'

Fisherman Bill Flower, meanwhile, is questioning why the town is even spending money on "an inconvenience."

The owner of Lunenburg Ocean Adventures raised concerns this summer about the health impact of thick, brown sludge that's dumped from an outfall and into the harbour.

"What a joke. We're concerned about smell, which isn't harmful to our health … but at the same time, we haven't addressed the serious health issue of the water," said Flower. 

Fishermen Bill Flower is worried about the health of people who use the Lunenburg Harbour, and has been documenting the sewage sludge that's discharged into the harbour from the town's treatment plant. (Submitted by Bill Flower)

He wishes the town would put the money toward extending the outfall away from the busy fishermen's wharf. Whenever the sewage is pumped from the plant and down the pipe, "a big mushroom cloud of sewage, of effluent, comes out," he said. 

After Flower raised concerns about the discharge, Stella Bowles, the Nova Scotia teen who helped bring attention to straight pipes in the LaHave River, collected a number of samples of the harbour.

She reported high levels of fecal bacteria, which prompted the Town of Lunenburg to do regular tests of its own in five locations. 

Stella Bowles tests water from Lunenburg harbour. (Andrea Conrad)

The highest levels of enterococci for the fishermen's wharf were taken on Sept. 6 at over 3,800 per 100 millilitres of water. That same day, the Broad Street boat launch location had levels exceeding 4,300.

A result under 70 is considered safe for activities like swimming, surfing and diving, while a result above 70 and below 175 would be only OK for things like rowing, sailing or fishing. 

The town says its testing will end in the next week because the money set aside for the task has all been spent.

Passing the buck

While Mosher said some of the results are "rather shocking," he's also not yet convinced that the best plan is to move the outfall. 

"That could very well be the solution, but until we get all the information, you know, it's hard to jump to conclusions," he said. 

Bill Flower, who runs a tour boat company in Lunenburg, has been trying to bring attention to the issue of sewage in the harbour for years. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Flower has made a complaint to the federal departments of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada, but he says so far, they seem to be "passing the buck."

"What I don't understand is why does the town not accept the responsibility and the problem and say, 'Hey, we know we have a serious issue here and we have to fix it,'" he said.