HALIFAX AND ENVIRONS may be blessed with the world’s second-largest natural harbour, but there is nothing natural about the abuse it’s been subjected to. Visitors to Black Rock Beach, in Halifax’s south end, pick their way among washed-up tampon applicators. Capt. Tim Gregan of the 23-m-tall ship Mar II sails tourists past “toilet debris” on a regular basis. “It’s part of the risk of sailing here in Halifax,” he says. Mayor Peter Kelly, 48, is old enough to recall childhood swimming lessons in the harbour. It’s not something he’d dare today. “There has been a lot of talk about floatables,” he says, “about offensive issues along the shore.” For too long-as almost 66 billion litres of raw sewage pour into the harbour annuallythat’s all there was, he concedes. “Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.”
Finally, after false starts and tough financial negotiations with the provincial and federal governments, construction is underway on a $333-million sewage treatment system. “It’s damn well about time,” says Jerry MacKinlay of the Ecology Action Centre. “They have literally been talking about cleaning up the harbour for about 50 years.” The so-called Harbour Solutions Project calls for an “advanced” primary treatment system to filter and settle out most solids. Ultraviolet light will kill bacteria before effluent is released into the harbour. The remaining sludge will be sold as fertilizer for sod farms and other non-food crops. While advocates want the system eventually upgraded to a higher level of secondary treatment, Kelly says the city is building what it can afford. Part of the municipal share comes from $65 million saved from a water surcharge, which will continue. When the system’s three plants are operating in 2008, about 97 per cent of the region’s homes and businesses will get treatment, says project manager Ted Tam. “It is a very major step for the municipality.” Gordon Fader, an emeritus scientist with the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, says water quality will take time to improve, but offensive odours and those dreaded floatables “will be gone within a short period of time.” Fader spent years consulting on the cleanup. Now, like the mayor, he is anxious to see the harbour regain some of its former glory.
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