St. John’s asks for appeal, delay over 2020 secondary wastewater treatment deadline

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The City of St. John’s, Newfoundland, released a statement to its taxpayers last week explaining why it doesn’t believe it’s fair that the federal government expects it to begin secondary treatment for its wastewater sooner rather than later. 

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen made headlines in recent weeks when he wrote to Ottawa asking to appeal the agreement imposed on the City or at least receive more time to meet new federal wastewater regulations, which still require some 25% of the wastewater systems across Canada to make upgrades.

In the secondary treatment process the City needs to build, bacteria and oxygen are added to primary-treated wastewater to further remove biological waste. 

The City contends that St. John’s was wrongly classified as high risk in the process when initial wastewater samples were taken over 2013 – 2014 from its Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility off Southside Road. The higher the risk the sooner the municipality must develop secondary treatment for its wastewater, according to the regulations. In this case, the deadline would be December 31, 2020.

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The City claims the 2014 readings are outdated and that if federal officials used current readings at the facility, it would mean that the City should not have to consider secondary treatment until 2030. The risk rating involves a measure of total suspended solids (TSS) and chemical biological oxygen demand (CBOD) in the facility’s effluent at the final discharge point. 

“Initially, Riverhead experienced significant operational issues with the digesters,” the City’s recent notice states. “We discovered that they had been installed incorrectly, and over the course of the first few years, the two digesters were frequently operating at a reduced capacity – in fact, at times only one was operational. This had a direct negative impact on the City’s allocated points…”. 

The City also wrote to the public that it’s unfair to “still be considered in the high risk category, given improvements in operation at our primary treatment plant.” 

The City goes on to explain that it simply cannot afford secondary wastewater treatment at this time. It states that an initial regional capital investment of $84.9 million will have significant financial implications for the City of St. John’s and its regional partners – the City of Mount Pearl and the Town of Paradise. It also suggests that the City of St. John’s alone will see its operating budget increase by an estimated $10.3 million once debt service and operating costs are factored. 

“Projecting out to 2026, we already anticipate increases in water taxes,” City officials warned the public. “Due to things such as general inflation, adding the cost to operate a secondary treatment facility will drive costs to rise by an additional increase of $105 per household. Commercial property owners will not escape the increase either and will see an increase in water usage rates as well – in the realm of 20%.” 

If St. John’s has not begun offering secondary treatment by 2021, it may face significant fines and penalties. 

The provincial government has made no commitments to help financially with the City’s wastewater project at this time.

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