Residents are concerned that a water treatment plant in Beausejur, Maine, will affect the Brokenhead River. Pipa News

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Fears are rising as work begins on a water treatment plant in Beausejur, Maine, prompting some residents to challenge government officials over the potential impact on the Brokenhead River.

A new facility in the eastern part of the city will purify well water using reverse osmosis. A pipe is being installed along Park Avenue to carry wastewater into the Brokenhead River, raising questions about how it could affect water quality and wildlife.

“A lot of waterfowl nest here every spring,” said Andrew Ellert, who lives along Brokenhead. “We have a caiman tortoise that comes back every year and lays its eggs here.”

Ellert said the river is also a popular recreation area for tourists and locals.

“Many people like to ride pipes on this river,” he said. “If you come here for the weekend, you will see a constant stream of people floating down the river.”

The province says that wastewater from the new wastewater treatment plant will be discharged into the Brokenhead River, but says it is “confident” that the wastewater will not be harmful. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The water treatment plant was approved by the Department of Environmental Protection of the Manitoba Department of Conservation and Climate in 2020.

In a statement last Friday, the ministry said it was “confident that the city’s Beausejour wastewater will not affect the Brokenhead River,” adding that the site’s construction plans had undergone a “rigorous environmental assessment.” […] and careful review by experts in government.”

The province said the emissions would not contain harmful chemicals, only elements already found in local groundwater, including large amounts of iron.

The risk is higher when the water level is lower

An expert from the University of Winnipeg said it could still be a problem when the water levels in the river are low.

“Maybe in the summer after a long drought [or] in winter, when most of the river freezes over,” said Nora Casson, head of the Canadian Research Center for Environmental Impacts on Water Quality.

“When there isn’t a lot of water flowing through a river, that’s a time when it can be more at risk of pollution just because there’s less water to dilute the incoming sewage.”

Work has begun on a pipeline along Park Avenue that will carry wastewater, including high iron content, from the soon-to-be-built Beausejour treatment plant to the Brokenhead River. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Casson said it was a well-known risk and said the province’s plans call for continued testing, especially at this time of year.

“It’s wise to be very careful with anything that changes the chemistry of a river, and especially a river that people depend on for recreation,” she said.

Concerned Citizens

Dozens of concerned citizens wrote to the province during the 30-day public comment period.

Beausejur Mayor Ray Schirle said the city has twice invited project leaders to meet with residents in 2020 to answer questions, but his office continues to receive many calls.

“All the engineers and scientists were involved,” Schirle said.

“The province cannot just issue an environmental license. There were a lot of criteria to meet.”

Beausejour Mayor Ray Schirle said he spoke with leaders of other municipalities in Manitoba that have similar water treatment facilities. (Bert Savard/CBC)

“I hate to say this,” the mayor continued, “but a lot of it is Facebook talk and people are not aware.”

Schirle said he spoke with leaders of a number of Manitoba municipalities using the same type of wastewater treatment plant, who said they had no problems.

Schirle invited people to come to the town hall with questions or concerns. But waterfront resident Ellert said he’s not satisfied that the leaders of the city, which is about 50 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, are listening.

“It was more of an announcement,” he said. “Here’s what we do” and then defend it, not [having] consultation”.

He said a group of community members have been discussing the issues on social media and will continue to fight to protect the river.

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