Nova Scotia

Lunenburg fisherman fed up with sewage sludge dumped in harbour

A Lunenburg, N.S., fisherman is raising a stink about the placement of an outfall, just one of the concerns related to the historic town’s sewage plant.

Residents urge town council to finally address problem linked to sewage plant

Fisherman Bill Flower, who runs Lunenburg Ocean Adventures, has been asking the town to move the outfall for years. (Steve Berry/CBC)

A Nova Scotia fisherman is pleading with municipal officials in Lunenburg to move an outfall that often dumps "thick, brown" sludge from a sewage plant into the harbour and below a busy wharf.

Bill Flower runs a tour boat company, and said despite spending thousands to clean his boat, within days it's covered again with treated waste that flows from the plant further up the hill.

When there's a malfunction at the plant or heavy rain, Flower worries the treated waste is actually raw sewage. 

"The sides of our boats, our dock lines, our fenders, everything we own down there is covered in this thick brown, looks like human waste," said Flower, who owns Lunenburg Ocean Adventures, a fishing charter company. 

The outfall for Lunenburg's sewage treatment plant is located directly below the busy in-shore fishermen's wharf, where Flower parks his boat. (Submitted by Bill Flower)

Flower, who argues the outfall should have been built further out into the harbour, has asked the town to move it, but said the answer is always the same: It's too expensive.

Smell drove buyers away

Flower isn't the only resident of the town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, who takes issue with the local sewage plant.

Residents who live near the Starr Street facility have been complaining for years about the unpleasant odour that wafts from the plant and gets worse in the hot summer months.

The plant needs an odour control system, and while town council has paid for a study, it's yet to cough up the estimated $750,000 to pay for it.

The Nova Scotia Department of Environment said in an email that it has given the town "approval to install a biofilter to address the odour issue" and that it can proceed with the work.

Last winter, Nancy Sixsmith put her house, which is about a kilometre from the plant, up for sale. But when the prospective buyers learned of the stink, they ran the other way, she said. 

"This last year and this year have been really terrible," she said. "It's frustrating because they're working on all these sewage projects, water projects but they're not doing anything about the waste-water plant."

Shouldn't be working in it

For Flower, his concerns with the plant go beyond the smell he's had to endure. He's worried about the safety of the material that coats his boat and becomes food for mackerel that are caught off the wharf.

"We're not supposed to be working in it. We are not supposed to be swimming in it. We are not supposed to be mackerel fishing in it," he said. 

Flower said many tourists and families who use the wharf don't know about the outfall, although there's now a "no swimming" sign. 

Flower runs boat tours from the wharf, and said he regularly has to clean sludge off his vessel. (Submitted by Bill Flower)

Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey said the town regularly tests the material that goes into the harbour, and those tests show it's safe. 

"Although it's very unfortunate that the fishermen's wharf is located in such close proximity to our sewage outfall, I think it needs to be pointed out that what comes out of that sewage outfall is treated," she said. 

The Department of Environment said the town's plant is in line with provincial and federal standards, and that treated wastewater is tested five times a month. 

"However, given the information that's come to light this week about solids coming from the outfall pipe, we are following up with the municipality to investigate," the department said.

'Very complicated process'

When the federal and provincial governments pitched in funds for water and waste-water projects last year, Lunenburg council applied for a piece of the pie but it didn't ask for money for the sewage plant. 

Bailey said there were costlier projects that took precedence.  

"That doesn't mean that we have ignored or are not putting in place plans to deal with the other issues," she said. 

She said she's spoken to Flower on several occassions and heard from residents like Sixsmith who live near the plant, but the complaints are very different and there's no quick fix. 

"It's a very complicated process and a difficult one to mitigate all the different odour issues and things that come up with sewage treatment," she said. 

About the Author

Emma Smith

Reporter

Emma Smith is a journalist from B.C. who has covered rural issues and Indigenous communities. Before joining CBC Nova Scotia in 2017, she worked as the editor of a community newspaper. Have a story idea to send her way? Email emma.smith@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning