New Brunswick

Parlee Beach's tainted image hurts businesses near marquee attraction

Luc LeBlanc stands in the middle of his empty lobby, shaking his head. Normally, the front desk would be abuzz with bathing-suit clad customers looking for fresh towels or directions to the beach.

Water quality problems keep customers away

Luc LeBlanc, owner of the Parlee Beach Motel, says business this year isn't shaping up to be better than last year, when it suffered during water-quality controversies at the beach. (CBC News)

Luc LeBlanc stands in the middle of his empty lobby, shaking his head. Normally, the front desk would be abuzz with bathing-suit clad customers looking for fresh towels or directions to the beach.

Today, LeBlanc's Parlee Beach Motel is quiet. Too quiet.

"It's not looking good," LeBlanc says. "We're having cancellations because of the beach."

The beach just down the road is New Brunswick's most popular strip of sand and water. 

Parlee Beach Provincial Park is a big draw to the Shediac area, and LeBlanc and his competitors have built their businesses serving the thousands who come every year to swim in its waters.

Now those numbers appear to be dwindling as word spreads of Parlee's struggle with water-quality tests.

Last year, CBC News reported the use of improper procedures for testing and publicizing water quality. High fecal counts that should have restricted swimming to the public were not being posted.

The province changed its testing system and adopted tougher, federal standards, with daily posting, which kept swimmers out of the water for eight days. 

The empty parking lot at Parlee Beach Motel. (CBC News)

Customers change minds

Local residents have complained about sewage leaking into the water and the beach sands and about overdevelopment of the already crowded shoreline.

After 10 years in the business, LeBlanc says that last year was the first year he's ever suffered a loss with the motel — a 10 per cent drop in profits. This year is shaping up to be more of the same.

The ones that are suffering are directly related to Parlee Beach. That could be a corner store, a motel or a hotel.- Ron Cormier, Greater Shediac Chamber of Commerce

"Tourists are, some of them, are cancelling because of the beach, they're cancelling their reservation," he says.

"We always ask why and most of the time we're told it's because of the water quality and the facts."

The facts, as LeBlanc sees them, are that Parlee is more rigorously tested for water quality than other New Brunswick  beaches on the Northumberland Strait, and it passes with flying colours most days.

Reputation hurt

Parlee Beach is an important tourist attraction for New Brunswick and Shediac, but the effects of water-quality problems last year are still being felt in the community today. (CBC News)

The problem, he says, is that this more positive view isn't getting to the public. Only the poor test results are talked about, and it's damaging the community's reputation, he says.

"The information that's out there talks about water quality, and I believe that a lot of the facts are not promoted. The accurate data is available but it's not being reported on."

So far this season, Parlee Beach has been closed to swimming for two days because of water quality problems. 

Just down the road from LeBlanc, at the Parlee Beach Chalets, manager Yvette Landry-Smith is worried.

The back lot of the compound is empty. There's a new barbecue, and new patio furniture is arrayed in the middle of the lot, but no one around is using any of it.

No hint of better days on way

Yvette Landry-Smith, manager at Parlee Beach Chalets, had high hopes when she took over the business two weeks ago. (CBC News)

The owners took over the business just two weeks ago, banking on Shediac's reputation for attracting summertime crowds. Today just over half the chalets are occupied, with no sign things will improve. 

"We're new owners and we did our market research, and it's not what we really thought it would be," Landry-Smith says. "We're not as busy as we thought.

"We believe that the reports of the water quality at Parlee Beach has affected our business."

Ron Cormier, the president of the Greater Shediac Chamber of Commerce, is confident Parlee will regain its allure for tourists. He describes the beach as pristine and says it meets the Canadian water recreation guidelines.

'Open for business'

Ron Cormier, president of the Greater Shediac Chamber of Commerce, is upbeat about the Parlee Beach's chances of becoming as busy as ever. (CBC News)

"In terms of businesses, some are suffering and some are maintaining," Cormier says. "The ones that are suffering are directly related to Parlee Beach. That could be a corner store, a motel or a hotel. 

"We have a beautiful beach here. It is wide open. It is open for business. The tests are done everyday, and I'm inviting you to come visit Parlee Beach and our beautiful town of Shediac and the community of Pointe-du-Chêne. So much to offer here."

Down on the beach, families and friends are soaking in the sun and tiptoeing across scorching sand. Parents watch their kids race in and out of the shallow waters. A large board posts the day's water quality assessment: Water open, suitable for swimming. 

Snorkeler just fine

\Yves Belanger, a resident of Shediac, has been coming to Parlee Beach for 40 years and he says nothing is wrong with the water.

"I have a snorkel and I wash my snorkel before I go in with the water and most of the time," he says. "I swallow a little bit of water, and I've been coming here for the last two weeks and I'm fine."

The children in the distance continue to play and splash water on each other. To these patrons, it's just another sunny day at their beloved Parlee.

A little less crowded than previous summers perhaps, but that just means more room for them to enjoy a day at the beach.