Complaints by residents over straight pipes spewing sewage into the Mahone Bay harbour prompted town council at their latest meeting on June 11 to issue an update on their work.
A social media post that had people talking brought the issue to the forefront recently.
"This was in our operational plan for 2019-20 and it was in our budget to support it for this year," said Town of Mahone Bay Mayor David Devenne. "Three weeks ago, someone observed a pipe that goes into the bay with some toilet products coming out of the pipe. They asked the question online about what is going on with straight pipes in Mahone Bay, so we decided we needed to formulate a response."
He said that this issue has been on the council's radar since 2016 when the current members took over.
"One of the first discussions we had in 2017 was around the unacceptable nature that we didn't have the town completely accommodated by our town sewage treatment system," said Devenne.
He explained that the town went ahead in 2018 and hired consultants to determine the extent of the problem. They found at that time nine pipes that discharged out into the bay. It was noted that one of them was hooked up to a sink that was discharging grey water out into the bay.
Brooke Nodding, executive director of Coastal Action, who partnered with ABLE engineering on this project, said that this is not acceptable in 2019. "Water quality is becoming more of an issue with residents and people are starting to understand that this is not an acceptable practice any more," she said.
"There is federal and provincial legislation that makes it illegal to have a straight pipe system in place. We would like to see all straight pipes addressed. We need the province to step up in a leadership role and say this is not acceptable and step up with solutions."
The solutions that ABLE and Coastal Action presented included a series of on-site sewage disposal systems to service the properties along Edgewater Street and a 300 metre extension of the existing conventional gravity sewer along Main Street to the boundary at Mader's Cove.
Council applied for grant money to extend the town's sewage system in January 2019 under the infrastructure funding program, but the town is still awaiting word on the funds. If the funding is not received, council will have to look at alternatives.
Devenne said that a number of years ago, council made the decision to build a town sewage treatment plant, however, they decided against extending the pipes to the extreme ends of the system, because they would have to build another lift pump at a prohibitive cost.
Some of the homes at those far ends have since put in their own systems. The property owners who are still doing this could put in their own systems, however, "it is the town's moral responsibility to ensure all citizens have access, so the decision was made, at the interest of the environment, that the best thing to do was to extend the sewer system."
Cost of the project is estimated at $550,000 to extend the system along Edgewater Street. Several buildings along Main Street have already put in their own systems.
According to a public notice the town issued, town council has met with provincial and federal representatives including Minister Bernadette Jordan to seek their support for these projects, which are a top priority for the town.
The notice went on to say that "preliminary engineering and design work have been completed and we are awaiting supporting funding decisions from other levels of government. The Town Council has embraced a solution which will provide an expanded sewage collection system designed to ensure that raw sewage entering our salt-water environment from the Town of Mahone Bay is eliminated."