Nova Scotia

Cape Breton leaders defy sewage rules

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality continues to defy a federal mandate requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to the way it handles sewage.

Regional municipality braces for repercussions of refusal to comply

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality continues to defy a federal mandate requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to the way it handles sewage.

Nova Scotia's second-largest municipality says it doesn't have the money to do the work. It's standing by an earlier decision not to proceed with the required projects.

"The wastewater strategy was, I think, a dream of some political bureaucrat in an office in Ottawa some place," said Gordon MacLeod, a councillor for North Sydney. 

The wastewater strategy was, I think, a dream of some political bureaucrat in an office in Ottawa some place

The sewage treatment plant in Sydney was built six years ago at a cost of $10 million. Millions of litres of sewage flow into it every day.

The plant is already outdated under the federal government's latest wastewater regulations. In addition, the CBRM is required to build eight more sewage treatment plants by 2021, which would cost approximately $425 million.

For communities like North Sydney, it would mean no more raw sewage flushed straight into the harbour. MacLeod says he would love to see that, but not at such a high cost to taxpayers.

Mayor John Morgan calls it a "great struggle," given the municipality is carrying a $100-million debt and coping with high unemployment and a shrinking population.

The Nova Scotia government has already warned council not to borrow any more money.

"If you could facilitate the borrowing, which we can't, it in itself would trigger monumental increases in tax rates by approximately 66 per cent, and you'd be doing that in one of the poorest areas of the country," Morgan said.

Refusing to comply

In May, Cape Breton regional council said it wouldn't spend money on any of the necessary planning or studies for the new regulations until there's a clear funding formula in place.

Countil was warned that defying the regulations could mean hefty fines or even imprisonment.

Council is bracing for the repercussions, though MacLeod isn't too worried. He said he shouldn't be prosecuted for doing his job to protect taxpayers from a lofty but unrealistic plan.

"Look, we're just standing up and we're saying we're not going to do that anymore," he said.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says many small communities across the country are struggling with the wastewater requirements. It wants a funding mechanism in place to help them.

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