By Richard Bell
Is the Twin Oaks Waste Water Treatment Plant polluting Petpeswick Inlet? The plant serves Twin Oaks Memorial Hospital, Eastern Shore District High, and the Birches nursing home.
John Woods has been on a long and twisting odyssey through urban and provincial bureaucracies trying to nail down hard evidence about the impact of the plant on the inlet. Woods, an engineer by trade, embarked on this voyage as the chair of the Infrastructure Committee of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority owns the sewage treatment plant. But NSHA has contracted with Halifax Water to operate the plant, in accordance with the Approval to Operate [the plant] issued by Nova Scotia Environment. NSHA initially refused to release the public documents Woods requested about the plant’s operations, telling him he would have to go through the time-consuming FOIPOP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) process.
But in the end, thanks to help from Councillor David Hendsbee, MLA Kevin Murphy, and a series of emails that reached as high as the Ministers of Environment and Health, Woods started getting the documents he was looking for.
In an interview, Woods said that there are several obvious problems that should be fixed as soon as possible, starting with putting a process in place to notify the community when the plant is down. “I just learned that the rotating biological reactor failed in March, and it took weeks to replace,” Woods said. “I only heard about it accidentally; David Hendsbee didn’t know, and you’d think he would be the first guy they’d notify if something went wrong at the plant. The community has a right to know when there’s a problem. Maybe we should have something simple, like a signboard in front of the hospital.”
Woods wants Halifax Water to go back to sampling the plant’s output at least once a week. The company shifted to sampling only once a month, and then releasing a rolling average based on the samples of the previous three months. “The older weekly data show that there were often spikes where the plant was exceeding the limits,” Woods said. “But if you only sample once a month, and average over 3 months, it’s much too easy to miss those spikes.”
Woods said he was happy to find out that the plant has excess capacity. According to a report by the consulting firm CBCL, the plant has 50% more capacity than it needs to handle the load from the three facilities. “That means that if the province decides to build the new high school at the current site, we won’t need to build a new sewer plant because the existing one can handle even a significant increase in load,” Woods said. And if it’s well maintained, the plant, which was built in 1996, could last a good 50 years.
Woods emphasized that previous studies had showed that the sewer plant was not the only source of pollution in the inlet. “There’s good reason for believing that there’s pollution coming from private properties along the Little River,” Woods said. “If we really want to find these sources, then we will have to do some dye testing of these septic systems.” Dye testing is not cheap, but because the federal government has jurisdiction over the waters of the inlet, there should be federal money available for testing.