Dorian-blamed seawater flood temporarily shutters sewage plant operations

by Keith Corcoran

Over the course of several days, unspecified amounts of raw, untreated sewage gushed into Lunenburg's harbour after the wastewater treatment plant was forced to shut down due to seawater flooding the facility at the height of Hurricane Dorian.

John Lohnes, the Starr Street plant's water resource operator, had been checking on the building off-and-on September 7 when Dorian's high winds and heavy rain poured down on the region. Later in the afternoon Lohnes arrived at the plant, at a time when roads were turning into swimming pools, to hear unsettling sounds and saw, from an elevated position, a water-logged process room floor.

The unique combination of strong winds, heavy rainfall, and a storm surge caused the problem, the town said in an online social media post.

With key electrical equipment at risk, and given water is a terrific conductor of electricity, it was decided to pull the plug on the plant until it was safe to resume operations.

The choice was either shut it down and reduce the hazard's impact or let the seawater jeopardize the works. The town decided on the former.

As a consequence, the plant isn't an option for what's flushed, and those items are heading to the harbour.

"It's not something that we could foresee nor prevent," Mayor Rachel Bailey told LighthouseNOW. "We are anxious, like anyone else is, to put a a fix to this as soon as we can."

Sewage is flowing out from six sites around the harbour, basically from Tannery Road to Rouse Brook.

"It's not unlike it would have been 16 years ago before we had a [sewage treatment] plant," Bailey said of the circumstances.

Electricity was restored at the plant September 9, but conditions were unsafe to resume operations.

Town officials and other professionals with expertise are assessing the damage and environmental impacts. Bailey anticipates damage values in the thousands of dollars "but we really don't know" yet.

The matter was reported to the federal and provincial agencies.

The mayor said the public's patience is appreciated and she asks people to be cognizant of what enters their drains.

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