A wastewater treatment lagoon upgrade project the Town of Alberton has been trying to complete since 2017 ran into stiff opposition at a public meeting Monday night. Residents of the neighbouring community of Northport showed up in force to voice their opposition to the project and to vent their displeasure in not been properly notified of the planned work.
At issue are plans to discharge the water from the lagoon’s second cell into the Alberton Creek over a two-week period so that the contractor can make changes including the rerouting of discharge pipes and installing a new manhole, valves and a water flow meter.
The Town of Alberton had hoped to have the project underway by May 13.
Following Monday’s meeting, the decision on whether to proceed with the project was turned over to the Town of Alberton.
It’s a $499,000 project originally planned for 2017 but has faced a series of delays, including the town’s inability to get the necessary environmental permits.
Alberton mayor David Gordon said the upgrades are meant to improve the operation of the lagoon for the benefits of residents of Alberton and its neighbours in Northport.
Janeen McGuigan, an engineer with Stantec, the engineering firm the town has contracted to oversee the planned project, said the work helps prepare for a second phase, the installation of an ultraviolet light system for treating the lagoon’s effluent. The flow meter, to be installed during Phase One, she said, would help determine the proper UV system to be installed later. She said no further discharge would be needed to carry out Phase Two.
But it is the lowering of the first cell and the complete discharge of the second cell into Alberton Creek, also known as the Northport River, that caused concern for many in the crowd of 60 who attended Monday’s meeting.
“I’m just talking about the threat to our back river,” said Northport municipal councillor Lisa Fraser. “I’m just wondering what is the affect to our environment, to our marine life, our wildlife. There are people living on those shores with toxic waste being added to fecal content.”
“Anything we’re proposing now is an improvement to the treatment process,” said McGuigan who noted the lagoon has been in place and releasing 1,000 cubic meters of treated wastewater into the creek every day since 1969. The rate would grow to 3,500 cubic meters per day during the 14-day discharge period. There would be a period of time after the project is completed when there would be no discharge.
Fraser accepted that the upgrades are meant to be an improvement, but she said the proposal has left the community downstream with a lot of “what if” questions unanswered. “’What if,’ in five years’ time, they find that back water is polluted because of contaminants that were pumped into the back river to allow this upgrade?”
There were indications water downstream from the lagoon would be closed to fishing activity for a minimum of five weeks following the discharge period and closed to recreational activities for up to five weeks. When challenged, no one was prepared to guarantee those timelines.
Another Northport councillor, Suzanne Matthews, suggested it was disrespectful that Alberton had not officially notified its neighbor of the proposed project.
Northport Council held a special meeting about the proposal last week, attracting 70 people. Northport mayor Wendy McNeill arrived at Monday’s meeting with three pages of concerns and questions, but meeting room time ran out before she could bring any of them to the floor.
She said following the meeting that Northport only learned of the project following a meeting about the project that Alberton held with shellfish fishermen two weeks ago.
Mayor Gordon said he expects his council will decide Wednesday whether to continue with, or cancel, the project. He said Foy contacted the town Tuesday to advise the ball is in the town’s court.
It is not a position Gordon wants his town to be in. “We’re neighbours. We don’t want to be fighting with them.” He has a meeting with Northport mayor McNeil Wednesday morning before his council decides how to proceed.
George Somers, director of the drinking water and wastewater management section of the Department of Communities, Lands and Environment, admitted there might still be some regulatory hurdles to clear before the project receives the necessary permits.
“Nothing we’ve heard diminishes our support for the project, in terms of issuing permits and all that,” he said. “If the town wants to proceed with that, we’re certainly happy to go down that road with them.”
Timing of the project was debated in detail Monday night.
McGuigan said there are advantages in having the project carried out in late spring, early summer when the natural UV benefits from the sunlight are strongest, but Northport residents and area fishermen pointed out that’s when the river is used most extensively for recreational and fishing activities.
There were suggestions that, if the project has to go ahead, it should be delayed until fall.