A stinky sit­u­a­tion

An un­pleas­ant-smelling sum­mer for an iconic Nova Sco­tia tourist town

The Western Star - - ATLANTIC -

A fetid smell is be­dev­illing one of Canada’s most rec­og­niz­able sea­side com­mu­ni­ties at the height of tourism sea­son, with res­i­dents say­ing they’re often forced to roll up their win­dows and aban­don their bal­conies.

Kevin Ernst lives on Lunenburg’s back har­bour and says he has had to leave his bar­be­cue and go in­side sev­eral times this sum­mer be­cause of a dis­tinctly pun­gent odour he likens to a dirty di­a­per.

The 53-year-old for­mer fish­er­man’s home is di­rectly across the har­bour from the town’s sewage treat­ment plant, some­thing he claims is a blight on the com­mu­nity that has fouled the air and its iconic shore­line.

“It’s dis­gust­ing and it’s un­healthy,” the long-time res­i­dent said in an in­ter­view. “I didn’t buy here to smell (ex­ple­tive) all the time. If it was cow, that’s OK. But not hu­man.”

Some of Lunenburg’s 2,300 res­i­dents say the 15-year-old plant is spoil­ing the scenic set­ting that is home to the famed Bluenose II schooner and was des­ig­nated a UNESCO World Her­itage Site for its brightly coloured build­ings dat­ing back to the 18th and 19th cen­turies.

The sea­far­ing com­mu­nity is the third most vis­ited site in the prov­ince, and has built a vi­brant tourism in­dus­try that sees a steady stream of vis­i­tors through the sum­mer and fall months.

But res­i­dents and busi­ness own­ers are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly fed up with the stench and har­bour waters con­tam­i­nated by fe­cal bac­te­ria that rou­tinely ex­ceed Health Canada guide­lines and can pose risks to boaters.

Donna Selig, who works at the Bluenose Lodge bed and break­fast in Lunenburg, said guests ask more about the wa­ter qual­ity in Lunenburg har­bour and whether it’s safe to go near it than they do about the odour.

“They’re afraid and ask, ‘Is it OK to go to the wa­ter­front?”’ she said Fri­day. “I did have one cou­ple can­cel a boat tour be­cause they were afraid to go out on the wa­ter and get­ting splashed.”

Lorne Jo­han­son, who runs Ali­cion Bed and Break­fast, said he doesn’t often smell the odour but when he does it’s much like rot­ten eggs. Asked if it’s af­fect­ing his busi­ness and the num­ber of peo­ple vis­it­ing the area, he said he hasn’t seen a drop in clien­tele yet.

“If it’s rec­ti­fied fairly quickly I think it’s quickly for­given and for­got­ten,” he said Fri­day. “But if it’s an on­go­ing thing, then slowly you build this rep­u­ta­tion and it’s pretty hard to kick and I think that’s what’s hap­pen­ing.”

The long­stand­ing prob­lem of con­tam­i­nants in the wa­ter gained at­ten­tion last year when Bill Flower, an out­spo­ken critic of the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the har­bour pol­lu­tion, was ac­cused of smear­ing sludge from an out­flow pipe on the mayor.

Flower, who runs a tour boat com­pany near one of the out­flow pipes and often has his hands cov­ered in the slime, has been press­ing the town for years to clean up the har­bour. He wants the pipe re­lo­cated closer to the mouth of the har­bour, away from the busy wa­ter­front that fea­tures a fish­eries mu­seum and other tourist spots.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity launched a sum­mer test­ing pro­gram for fe­cal con­tam­i­na­tion at sev­eral sites through­out Lunenburg har­bour and along the wa­ter­front, and is post­ing re­sults on its Face­book page. One of the most re­cent tests showed that two of the three wa­ter­front sites were well above fed­eral sec­ondary con­tact guide­lines for the bac­te­ria, known as en­te­ro­cocci.

On July 24, a test at the Fish­er­man’s Wharf reg­is­tered about 2,500 colonies per 100 millil­itres of wa­ter. Health Canada’s guide­line for sec­ondary con­tact is 175 colonies per 100 millil­itres of wa­ter.

“This means that wa­ter con­tact, through ac­tiv­i­ties such as row­ing, sail­ing, or fish­ing, poses a risk to hu­man health due to the pos­si­ble pres­ence of path­o­genic bac­te­ria,” ac­cord­ing to the test­ing by Coastal Ac­tion, a lo­cally based en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“In­di­vid­u­als should ex­er­cise cau­tion dur­ing wa­ter-based recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties in these ar­eas.”

Test­ing in five other sites closer to the mouth of the har­bour found bac­te­ria lev­els be­low Health Canada’s pri­mary con­tact guide­lines.

Shanna Fred­er­icks of Coastal Ac­tion, which is run­ning the test­ing from June through to Oc­to­ber, said there are many known and sus­pected sources for the bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion. That in­cludes the sewage treat­ment plant’s ef­flu­ent, raw sewage be­ing piped into the har­bour from the Gar­den Lots com­mu­nity, pos­si­bly boat­ing traf­fic and sed­i­ment on the har­bour floor that likely con­tains bac­te­ria.

Com­bined sewer over­flow pipes also can un­leash raw sewage into the har­bour dur­ing heavy rains.

The ef­flu­ent from the plant is treated and meets provin­cial guide­lines, but Fred­er­icks said it still con­tains bac­te­ria be­cause the thresh­old is higher than cer­tain fed­eral guide­lines.

“The treat­ment plant is work­ing and they’re meet­ing the reg­u­la­tions, but there is still bac­te­ria in that ef­flu­ent when it comes out,” she said.

The mu­nic­i­pal­ity is in­stalling a $1.1-mil­lion biofil­ter at the plant to re­duce the odour, while also do­ing an en­gi­neer­ing study on the plant and the sewage sys­tem it says will be pub­lished in the com­ing months.

Lunenburg town coun­cil is­sued a state­ment this week fol­low­ing sev­eral me­dia re­ports chroniclin­g the odour and con­tam­i­nant prob­lems. It said the is­sues are not unique to Lunenburg and that it is work­ing to ad­dress them.

“We want to as­sure cit­i­zens and vis­i­tors that we are fully com­mit­ted to con­tin­ued mon­i­tor­ing, test­ing and shar­ing of the re­sults,” the state­ment reads. “The Town of Lunenburg is ac­tively work­ing to im­prove the wa­ter qual­ity of our har­bour.”

CP PHOTO

The har­bour in Lunenburg, N.S., is seen on Fri­day. The UNESCO World Her­itage site is deal­ing with an un­pleas­ant odour in the town re­lated to their sewage treat­ment in­fra­struc­ture.

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