Standing on the bow of his fishing boat, Bill Flower only has to look down to see a thick brown sludge belch out of a municipal wastewater pipe and into one of Canada’s most iconic harbours.
The fetid material burbles across the rocks under one of Lunenburg’s busiest wharfs and flows into the sea, coating boats, their ropes and most anything that comes in contact with it in a sticky film.
For Flower, who also runs a tour boat company and often has his hands covered in the slime, the fact that sewage flows freely into the harbour of a picturesque town deemed a UNESCO world heritage site and home to Canada’s most famous sailing ship, the Bluenose II, is a maddening reality he’s vowed to change.
“It’s dangerous and bad for the environment and I’m handling it everyday – it’s disgusting,” he said in an interview. “We’ve had improperly treated sewage pumping underneath that wharf for 15 years and it’s gotten worse and worse as the volume of people increase, especially in the summertime when it stinks like hell.”
Flower has been a vocal critic of the town’s sewage treatment plant and the location of the outfall, saying the pipe should have been placed closer to the mouth of the harbour and away from the busy waterfront that features a fisheries museum and other tourist spots.
He cites recent test results posted on the town website that show the presence of elevated levels of fecal bacteria.
He says that over the years he has repeatedly urged Lunenburg Mayor Rachel Bailey to do something about the pipe and the sewage treatment facility, which he argues is not adequate to handle the town’s load, particularly when there are heavy rains. As a result, he says raw sewage likely pours into the harbour at times.
People in the town also complain about a strong odour coming from the plant, which Ottawa has pledged to address with a promised $1.1-million biofilter announced last month.
But Flower says his appeals have not brought about any change in the town, about an hour and a half south of Halifax.
The long-simmering feud took a strange turn in recent weeks when Flower was charged with assaulting the mayor on Aug. 14 by allegedly smearing the foul sludge on her ankle following a confrontation between the two.
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Flower said the mayor approached him on the wharf as he was preparing to head out on the water, and they had a heated exchange over his public comments on the sewage. He said she returned the following day and displayed her ankle, saying it was infected from the material.
Flower wouldn’t comment when asked if he touched Bailey. Court documents listing the charge indicate Flower is not to have any contact with Bailey.
Bailey issued a statement Wednesday saying that Flower’s account of what allegedly happened differs from her statement to police, but refused to offer any other details.
Bailey only said she stopped at the Inshore Fisherman’s Wharf, where Flower ties up, on her way home from a morning run and began a conversation with a person she does not name.
“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,” her statement reads.
“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.”
The mayor, as well as staff responsible for the wastewater treatment plant, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The municipality posted test results from five sites around the harbour, which show levels of enterococci – a fecal bacteria – that far exceed Health Canada’s guideline of 70 colonies per 100 millilitres of water.
On Sept. 6, a test at the Fisherman’s Wharf registered 3,873 colonies per 100 millilitres of water.
“Those levels are definitely higher than the acceptable level … by today’s standards it’s bad,” said Bruce Hatcher, chair of Marine Ecosystem Research at Cape Breton University.
“This is a UNESCO heritage site and the world is watching and we really need to be seen to be taking care of these environments