Blame the herring
The reek around French Creek in recent weeks isn't related to the sewage treatment plant — it's all about herring roe and one prominent member of the community believes it's only going to get worse.
"In my opinion, June is going to be absolutely horrible," said Joe Stanhope, the chair of the regional District of Nanaimo's board of directors and a long-time French Creek resident.
A herring spawn in mid-March right in front of the French Creek Marina has resulted in ankle-deep eggs on the beach near the marina. Residents have been complaining about the smell, and some of them have attributed it to what the RDN calls its pollution control centre, which is only a few hundred meters from the beach.
There was proof Thursday — another smelly day around French Creek to be certain — the odours were not coming from the plant. The wind was blowing from the east, carrying the smell of the millions of decomposing eggs into the area of the businesses and residences inland from the marina. Any odours from the plant, with that wind direction, would be blown in the opposite direction of the area around the marina.
The French Creek Pollution Control Centre takes in human waste from about 26,000 local residents who flush their toilets, and about the same amount of people who have their septic tanks emptied and trucked to the facility. Staff say they are proud of their facility and their ISO certification levels. They also say they want to hear from residents who detect a foul smell in the area.
"Odours are a really complex thing," said Sean DePol, the RDN's manager of waste water services. "The best instruments in the world can't pick up some odours the human nose can. Odour complaints are important to us. We monitor the weather — the wind (direction) is important to help us identify where the odours are coming from."
The last expansion at the plant was in 1997 (it was originally built in 1978). From an odour-complaint perspective, it didn't go well. The RDN received more than 220 odour complaints in each of 1998 and 1999.
In comparison, in 2013 there were only 16 complaints logged, the same number that have been received in the first five months of 2014 (half of which on May 1-2 alone).
After the 1997 expansion, “odour from the newly-constructed plant became a major issue due to an engineering design oversight,” DePol wrote in an e-mail to The NEWS after taking a reporter on a tour of the facility last week. “To address this issue, extensive odour control measures were undertaken . . . (including) covering and/or enclosing odour-generating areas of the plant, adding two bioscrubbers, one biofilter, and using ozone to change (oxidize) the chemical composition of odour-causing compounds”
More than 10,000 cubic metres of treated effluent is released into the Georgia Strait from the plant every day through a pipe that goes two kilometres off shore from French Creek, 62 metres below the surface of the water at the pipe’s end.
The RDN encourages local residents to call them if they detect odours. You can call the pollution control centre’s chief operator, Chris Brown, at 250-248-5794.