Nfld. & Labrador

Small-town mayors rail against federal government at emergency wastewater meeting

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador has called an emergency meeting on Friday for community leaders to address concerns about federal wastewater regulations.

Meeting held by MNL amidst concerns most towns can't meet federal targets

All the province's federal MPs were in attendance at an emergency wastewater meeting called by Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador held an emergency meeting on Friday to address concerns about federal wastewater regulations that will mean costly upgrades to infrastructure.

"Municipalities are not going to meet the regulations," Tony Keats, president of the organization, told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

"They're not going to meet the timelines, and it's very crucial that we sit down with all the officials, especially the ones making the decisions, and make them aware of where we're to and why we can't get there and why we need to get there."

New regulations came into effect in 2012, which required cities and towns to upgrade their sewage systems to provide secondary processing of all wastewater that is emptied into waterways like rivers and oceans.

Until 2014, municipalities were able to apply for an extension. Only three towns in this province applied, giving them until 2020 to meet the deadlines.

This has been a total exercise in frustration- Derm Corbett, Buchans mayor

But with most communities in Newfoundland and Labrador saying they can't comply with the targets, MNL is bringing everyone together to make a case for the federal government. 

Buchans Mayor Derm Corbett took the opportunity to voice his displeasure with the federal program, with all seven Newfoundland and Labrador MPs in attendance.

Buchans Mayor Derm Corbett said there's no way his town can afford to meet the regulations. (CBC)

"This has been a total exercise in frustration," he told CBC News.

Corbett said small towns with volunteer councils like his have been left to figure out the processes, implications and timelines for themselves — hence why so few were able to get an extension.

"We've been swimming around not knowing what direction to take, totally confused. My own personal opinion is that these regulations were ill-conceived as it comes to Newfoundland and the rollout is a disaster. A total disaster."

Leaders of municipalities that are not compliant face stiff punishment. The mayor or town clerk can face a fine ranging up to $1 million, and jail time. Corbett said it's offensive and ridiculous to be exposed to punishment because of regulations that his town simply cannot afford.

The federal government has done a terrible job of rolling out this whole program- Sam Synard, Marystown mayor

The struggle for most communities comes down to budget. Keats said a lot of money is spent on a monitoring project in which communities monitor the amount of effluent entering waterways and report that data to the federal government.

For Buchans, that's costing $25,000 annually for a shrinking tax base in a town with fewer than 650 residents.

Marystown Mayor Sam Synard said it would cost his town more than its annual budget to meet federal wastewater targets. (CBC)

It's even more expensive in Marystown, where Mayor Sam Synard shares similar concerns.

"The federal government has done a terrible job of rolling out this whole program," he said. "Their aggressive timelines of 2020 are not going to be met."

While there was the possibility to apply for extensions, Synard said most towns didn't know about it, or struggled to get through the process in time.

To meet the targets, Marystown would need to spend about $10 million — a tough task for a town with an $8 million annual budget.

Flushing away money

The effluent monitoring equipment alone isn't cheap — about $10,000 per unit — and some communities have as many as eight monitoring units. More often than not, he said, towns place a higher priority on road maintenance and fresh water in their budgets.

"That money that we're spending to monitor is money we can put into finding solutions," Keats said. "We need something that's manageable and affordable. We have so much stuff on our plate and we only have so much money."

Tony Keats is the president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador and the mayor of Dover. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Keats figures the province will need $600 million to bring every municipality up to federal code. As of now there isn't a single community in Newfoundland and Labrador that fully complies with federal regulations, he said. 

That's why the meeting was called. 

More than 140 people registered for Friday's meeting at the Holiday Inn in St. John's, representing 102 municipalities.  

All seven Newfoundland and Labrador members of Parliament were in attendance, as well as Lisa Dempster, the provincial minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment. 

The meeting runs from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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