Nova Scotia

Fall River residents worried about sewage from new seniors housing development

Residents of a small community in the Halifax area are concerned about a new seniors housing complex pumping treated sewage into the lake from which they draw their drinking water.

New complex will pump treated sewage into Lake Thomas, which some use for drinking water

Eleven homes in Lake Thomas Park draw their drinking water from the lake. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Residents of a small community in the Halifax area are upset that they weren't consulted about a new seniors housing complex pumping treated sewage into the lake from which they draw their drinking water.

The proposed "age-in-place campus," which includes four apartment buildings and a long-term care facility, is expected to be built at 1109 Fall River Rd., with wastewater from the planned on-site treatment facility being piped underground to the middle of Lake Thomas.

Thomas Drive, known locally as Lake Thomas Park, is home to 11 families who draw their drinking water from the lake through a small filtration system. Several members of the community said they're worried about the impact of the effluent on their water supply.

Lindsey Hamilton has been living in the community for 15 years. She's known about the development for a couple of years, but only recently found out about the sewage outfall location.

"Nobody has come to us and talked to us to find out if we use the water for drinking," she said. "Somebody overlooked something."

Lindsey Hamilton heard about the sewage outfall from a resident of Fall River. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

The developer of the project, Vision 7 Developments, submitted its plans for the on-site treatment facility to the province's Department of Environment and Climate Change. Included in its submission was a study prepared by a consultant hired by the developer which stated "some households could possibly draw from the lake but the likelihood is low." 

In an e-mail to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change said new treatment facilities do not require community consultation at the provincial level but directed questions about consultation to the Halifax Regional Municipality since land use approvals are issued municipally. 

When CBC News asked the Halifax Regional Municipality whether it was aware of the residents who were drawing water from the lake, a spokesperson said via e-mail "the province is responsible for regulating all water supplies that are not managed through Halifax Water's serviced areas, such as well systems or water drawn from lakes."

The municipality said the province approved the sewage treatment plant and the treated effluent discharge proposed for the site. 

This graphic shows the approximate locations of the outfall pipe planned for the new development and the intake pipe that supplies the homes on Thomas Drive. (CBC News Graphics)

Hamilton said the community has been drawing water from the lake for over 40 years. She doesn't want to connect to city water or build a well system because of a new development in the area.

"We have a supply of water," she said. "It just feels like it's being taken away from us."

'Can't afford another water system'

Thomas Swaine is the president of the Lake Thomas Park Association and tends to the community's water filtration system. He said when he found out that the planned outfall was an estimated 200 metres from the system's intake, he was furious.

"I can't understand [how] the government or anybody can decide to do what they're doing when there's drinking water," he said.

Swaine said the province rejected his community's initial design for its septic system, instead requiring them to build an approved one that cost the community $150,000.

"There's a lot of people here still paying for this," he said. "We can't afford another water system."

Thomas Swaine shows the water filtration system the community uses for its drinking water. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Swaine said he doesn't understand why a similar septic system can't be built for the development, instead of effluent flowing into the lake.

Ron Pachal with Vision 7 Developments said the proposed facility is in line with provincial standards and is the best option for the project. "For a project this size, I don't know that you could even do a septic system," he said.

Fall River Coun. Cathy Deagle Gammon said since the project was initially proposed, it has "morphed" from about 300 units to 500, plus between 100 to 150 long-term care beds.

"I do think a long-term care facility in our community is an asset," said Deagle Gammon. "At the time, though, we did not know that the density was still going to be around 500."

In March, members of the community appealed the approval of a site plan for the complex to the Northwest Community Council. However, the community council rejected the appeal 5-1. Deagle Gammon was the only councillor to side with the residents.

Cathy Deagle Gammon represents District 1 – Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley on Halifax regional council. (Dylan Jones/CBC)

Hamilton said she understands housing is badly needed in HRM, but she's worried what would happen if the sewage system failed.

Pachal said the planned treatment facility will be computer monitored and equipped with redundancies to protect against failure.

"We looked at wastewater plants throughout Canada, the U.S., Europe," Pachal said. "People should just have comfort in that system that we're putting in."

Work on the site is expected to start in the coming months.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Simon Smith

News Reporter

Simon Smith is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at simon.smith@cbc.ca, on Twitter as @SimonR_Smith

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