2017-10-18

Lunenburg water saga boils over into acrimony

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Lunenburg mayor Rachel Bailey released public statement referring to someone who &#8220;put his hands on me in in a manner that is unacceptable.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Bill Flower, owner of Lunenburg Ocean Adventures, sent this newspaper a series of photographs recording sludge he regularly contends with in Lunenburg harbour.</p>

The controversy surrounding the condition of the water in Lunenburg harbour boiled up last week as local tour boat operator Bill Flower responded to the public statement mayor Rachel Bailey issued concerning media reports of her involvement in assault charges against him.

"In all honesty, I think she should step down," Flower told LighthouseNOW.

Part of the mayor's statement released October 11 concerning an August incident reads: "On August 14th, 2017, I stopped at the Inshore Fishermen's Wharf in Lunenburg on my way home from a morning run. During the course of what began there as a discussion, another person participating in the exchange put his hands on me in a manner that is unacceptable.

"I subsequently reported the incident to the RCMP. It is my understanding that the person has been charged with assault and, since being charged, has chosen to speak publicly about the incident.

"As a witness in a criminal proceeding, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on this matter until it has been dealt with by the courts. Details of the incident described in media reports do not reconcile with the statement I made to the police which will be a part of the criminal proceedings."

Bailey's statement references an alleged incident in which Flower says Bailey accused him of smearing sewage material from the harbour on her ankle.

Flower, who is due to appear in Bridgewater court on April 11, 2018, denies the assault charge he is now facing.

"It's all on video and I wish I could make the video public, but I'm not able to because I don't possess it. It's in the possession of the RCMP and the Harbour Authority," Flower said.

"I would love the public to see it and they would see that she was standing on the wharf waiting for me, pacing back and forth, as I arrived, to have a confrontation with me."

"I don't know what's considered unacceptable. I didn't do anything obscene," responded Flower.

He told LighthouseNOW "no comment" when asked whether he put his hands on the mayor in any way, or splashed anything on to her.

"There's a bottom line here. She says that there was sewage wiped on her. But there's no sewage in Lunenburg harbour. So how is that possible?

"I mean she said all along in statements ...there's not a sewage problem, everything's at acceptable levels, everything's fine. And then she turns around and accuses me of wiping sewage on her. So what is it, Rachel? Is there sewage in Lunenburg harbour and did I wipe sewage on you or is there not?"

Flower added that his daughter, Emily, who works as his deck hand, was a witness.

"I've got nothing to hide, right. It is what it is. She came to my place of work, she confronted me, she stuck her finger in my face, she called me names, she said that I wasn't a taxpayer. I mean how ridiculous is that? I own a house in town, for God's sake. I own 90 Broad Street. I own a business in town. I own three buildings."

The mayor released her statement the day after the October 10 Lunenburg town council meeting, when she also announced plans to hold a public meeting on the whole issue of the harbour water quality.

"I think it's just really important to share good information, because there's certainly a lot of miscommunication, or confusion of facts out in the public domain at the moment," said Bailey.

Bailey told LighthouseNOW the idea of a public information session is to discuss the issue of the harbour's water quality She's hoping to advise people on what has been and is being done to improve the harbour.

"There's been a lot of media attention lately to issues in the harbour and suggestions our sewage treatment plant doesn't work, and that there's raw sewage going into our front harbour. So there's a lot of information and terms being tossed around very loosely, which aren't always accurate or not accurate."

The mayor commented that there have been "significant improvements" in the water quality since the sewage system was installed 14 years ago, before which nine outfalls pumped raw sewage into the harbour.

"To suggest that we're still there is really unfair and untrue. So we need to get that good information out there."

The mayor insisted that the sewage treatment plant treats the sewage. "What goes into the harbour is waste water. It's treated. It's not raw sewage."

She noted some raw sewage may flow into the harbour during heavy rains when the system overflows, however, she said that was rare.

She also pointed out that the town is making strides in getting a bio-filter for the facility, which will be a "huge" improvement.

"I mean odor has been a big issue. Sewage and organic matter doesn't smell very good. So even a low tide, it doesn't smell very good."

Nonetheless Bailey acknowledges, "There is an issue with the quality of the water near our inshore fisherman's wharf. And we've recognized that for a long time." What the town still doesn't know, she added, is "if it's a health issue."

Bailey also conceded that part of the quality issue in the front harbour "is because that is where our outfall, so the treated water does enter the harbour there."

She also explained that the area "does not flush well " because it's the head of the harbour with less wave action than further out.

The regular water quality tests the town is conducting at various points in the harbour is part of the "information gathering" it's doing "to try to give us an idea of what the issue is, and if it's isolated or not isolated."

Bailey agreed results to date are suggesting "in certain areas of our harbour we need to look at it more thoroughly."

While she insists the system meets federal and provincial standards, the result of tests "in the area next to our inshore fishermen's wharf is still not acceptable," said Bailey.

One of the things that will ultimately be under review, said the mayor, is "Do we need to change the system?"

Flower has had a longstanding dispute with the town over the issue of the quality and safety of the water in the harbour.

He recalled how about 10 years ago he had just cleaned up his boat for the tourist season.

"And I had new dock lines on it and new fenders and my stuff was covered in a half-inch of shit... they had been flushing the system or something."

He went into the town office, with his lines and fenders in hand.

"I threw them down on the floor and I said, 'What is going on here? Fix this. This is disgusting. They called the RCMP ... I didn't do anything, I just went in there. The mayor (Laurence Mawhinney) wasn't in. I would have put them on his desk."

Flower says he cannot understand why Bailey is "so defensive" of the sewage system she inherited.

Fecal bacterial test results "are in the thousands, Flowers says. .

"How can anybody be happy with that? That's HAZMAT material," he said.

Stella Bowles, the Bridgewater student who heightened public attention and spurred action toward fecal bacterial levels on the LaHave River through her school science project tested areas in the harbour. She reportedly called the levels "disgusting."

Flower acknowledged that sometimes the problem is heightened during a heavy rain, when the system overflows.

However, he said the sewage coming into the harbour "is all day long, every day, seven days a week. It just pumps and pumps and pumps. It's been going on for years."

Flower told LighthouseNOW attempts so far to take the issue beyond the town council have proved frustrating. He contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but was subsequently advised to get in touch with the provincial department of environment. When he did, he says he was advised to contact the federal department of environment.

"So then I wrote I wrote the federal department of environment in Ottawa. And they wrote me back a letter telling me it was Fisheries problem."

Town council agreed September 26 to proceed with a request-for-proposals after engineering staff created a terms of reference in response to civic politicians wanting to see what new technologies and upgrades would make sense for its waste water treatment process.

The town's already paid for engineering involved to establish an odour control system at the sewage plant and recently the province and federal government promised $286,750 and $573,500 respectively toward installing a bio-filter system to combat the problem.

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