BY ANDY WALKER
It is a story that happens all too often.
As municipalities expand their reach further into rural areas, the impacts are usually negative for primary industries like farming and fishing. In the case of agriculture, it usually means prime agricultural farmland begins to disappear in favour of stores or subdivisions. For the fishery, it is usually a disturbance of traditional fishing areas or species the mating patterns.
One of the reasons often pegged for the reduction of lobster stocks on the P.E.I. south shore is the impact construction of the Confederation Bridge had on traditional breeding grounds. Closer to the Island capital, oyster fishermen in the Hillsborough River had been putting up with frequent closures resulting from sewage overflow from the Charlottetown sewer system.
There have been 18 closures during the past two years and a group of oyster fishermen paid a visit to city hall recently to tell the municipality enough is enough.
The problem usually occurs after a heavy rain, when water and sewer lines can’t handle the volume and the overflow goes into the harbor. That prompts DFO to pull the plug on the shellfishery in the river, and quite often in the North and West rivers as well since they flow into the Hillsborough.
So far this year, the fishery has been shut down for over a month. They are accusing city hall of stonewalling on the issue and fisherman Jack Ferguson told reporters following the meeting the city should be fined every time an overflow occurs.
Councillor Eddie Rice, who chairs the water and sewer committee, said there is no quick fix for the problem. He said the long-term answer lies in a separation of the city’s water and sewer line –something that carries a $24 million price tag. The capital is hoping to access money from the federal and provincial governments for an infrastructure project.
The P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association has thrown its support behind the oyster industry in the battle. Association president Mike McGeoghegan said in addition to oysters, the raw sewage is also a threat to groundfish, lobsters and other small pelagics in the vicinity. The total adverse effects on these species are not known, but P.E.I. risks losing its stellar reputation for high-quality seafood products if this situation is allowed to continue, he said.
He agreed the discharge can impact other areas as well, such as the tourism industry. Certainly, the smell of raw sewage is not something that is going to attract any visitors. Both visitors and residents alike are becoming more concerned about water quality as the problem grows.
“It is unfortunate that Federal infrastructure funding was not accessed over the past two years as costs typically escalate each year a project is delayed or not started,” he said.
McGeoghegan suggested the two-year timetable needs to be shortened, “So that the health and livelihood of fishers, recreational swimmers and residents in the area is not compromised.”
While Islanders going to the polls in October, the issue has already become a political football. Conservative Environment Critic Jim Bagnall suggested during the spring legislature sitting the city was getting a “free ride” on the issue since Environment Minister Richard Brown was a long-time city councillor before entering provincial politics.
Now Opposition Leader Olive Crane has pledged to clean up the problem if she is the choice of voters on Oct. 3. She argued the cleanup is, “The right thing to do.
“Our Island waters enrich our environment, create employment opportunities and economic growth and they deserve to be protected and respected,” she said.