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Moncton to TransAqua: Fix the smell at sewage composting operation — or move

TransAqua's sewage composting facility covers a sprawling site in Moncton's north end.  (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
TransAqua's sewage composting facility covers a sprawling site in Moncton's north end. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

Moncton council voted Monday to insist on changes at a sewage composting operation that's been blamed for a pungent smell in the city's north end.

Councillors unanimously approved a motion for TransAqua to either enclose the composting site in a building with a filtration system, or move it out of the city.

The vote came after years of complaints about a smell that occasionally wafts over the city's north end.

"This motion is to show that we're united as a council, that we're going to stick up and we're going to stand up for the people that are being affected by this," said Coun. Bryan Butler, who represents the north end.

Moncton city councillors Bryan Butler, left, and Dave Steeves, represent the city's north end.
Moncton city councillors Bryan Butler, left, and Dave Steeves, represent the city's north end.

Moncton city councillors Bryan Butler, left, and Dave Steeves represent the north end and moved the TransAqua motion. (Shane Magee/CBC)

At issue is a composting plant the utility began operating in 2005 south of Berry Mills Road.

That's where "biosolids" removed from Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview wastewater are sent to be composted on large outdoor pads under large tarp-like covers.

An upgrade at TransAqua's sewage plant resulted in biosolids being removed for composting instead of flushed into the Petitcodiac River, and a corresponding increase in north end odour complaints.

Council's vote is largely symbolic, though.

TransAqua, also known as the Greater Moncton Wastewater Commission, is a corporate entity created by the province. Its board members are nominated by the municipalities of Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview.

"No one municipality is able to direct the Commission; as such, the Commission would be under no obligation to carry out this Motion should it be adopted by Council," a city staff report to council states.

Despite that, several councillors said a message needed to be sent.

"What we're trying to convey is a symbolic message that we do not want this side-effect of their treatment," Coun. Daniel Bourgeois said of the smell.

Michel Desjardins, the outgoing chair of the TransAqua board, said he's sure the board will take the request seriously.
Michel Desjardins, the outgoing chair of the TransAqua board, said he's sure the board will take the request seriously.

Michel Desjardins, the outgoing chair of the TransAqua board, says he's sure the board will take the request seriously. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Michel Desjardins, TransAqua's outgoing board chair, was in council chambers for the vote and later told reporters the motion would be taken seriously.

"The City of Moncton is an important partner of TransAqua," Michel Desjardins said.

"We take any pronouncement that the city makes very seriously and I'm sure that the board … will consider this request and take the appropriate actions."

He said the organization would need to analyze the potential costs of measures Moncton is insisting it take.

TransAqua is funded through wastewater fees paid by homes and businesses in Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview. Added costs would go on those bills.

"The impact of this pronouncement could be significant for taxpayers in greater Moncton, not only in Moncton," Desjardins said.

"So I think your audiences can — you can rest assured that TransAqua will do its due diligence and will do the appropriate research to find out how much this would cost."

TransAqua's sewage composting facility in Moncton on July 27, 2022.
TransAqua's sewage composting facility in Moncton on July 27, 2022.

Rows of material at TransAqua's composting site in 2022. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The city staff report to council about the motion lists several steps TransAqua has already taken.

They include training, changes to how the material is handled, buying more of the large covers, adding lime to the biosolids, and trucking some material to a secondary site in the province.

Butler said the intent is to put pressure on TransAqua after years of discussions and steps he says have yet to address the problem.

"This is the first time the council has really come out and said 'That's enough,'" Butler told reporters after the meeting.

The motion didn't have a timeline, which Butler said is because there are new members being appointed to the TransAqua board and they want to give them time to get up to speed on the issue.

Moncton councillors voted Monday to appoint Bruce Tait, a former city employee, to the board. Tait retired in February 2021 after three decades working for the city.