Gerry Beson and Alice Osmond moved to their home on Lakeside Drive in Labrador City in 2003.
The property has a nice backyard and is close to Little Wabush Lake, but it's also close to the town's sewage treatment plant, which borders the lake.
“The plant never caused any problems,” Beson explained.
At least, not until 2016. That's when people in the area started complaining about experiencing a foul odour. Soon, residents began experiencing the stench more frequently.
"Think of the odour of rotten eggs multiplied by ten," says Osmond about the smell.
When the winds were in a certain direction, Beson and Osmond said they were prisoners in their own home.
“We couldn’t open the windows. At times, the odour was so strong I felt nauseous," said Osmond.
Many nights, they had to retreat from their deck and go inside because of the smell. There were many evenings when backyard barbecues were out of the question.
"It would be like trying to cook in the outhouse,” quipped Osmond.
Tired of the ongoing issue, Beson and Osmond, along with others in the area, contacted town officials to complain and ask for the issue to be fixed.
In 2017 and 2018, the problem seemed to intensify. At one point, the previous town officials said that changes in wind patterns may be the reason the odour was more noticeable.
“I didn’t buy that one minute - the winds may have changed, but there was something at that plant causing the intense odour, in my opinion,” said Beson.
The town set up a system residents could use to report any incidents.
'A difficult problem'
On Jan. 31, town officials held a meeting to explain to residents what they discovered and what they’ve done to fix the problem. Only three residents attended the presentation, held on one of the coldest nights of the year. But Beson and Osmond, who were at the forefront in the effort to get the town to rectify the odour problem, were anxious for an update.
Town engineer Tom Mihajlovic took the residents through a slide presentation explaining the process.
“It was a difficult problem to assess and then repair," Mihajlovic said. "We knew that the 51 calls we had meant we had a problem."
The town went through the treatment process step by step and there were indications that things were fine judging by the composition of the sludge, he said.
A look at the equipment that mixes air and raw sewage showed possible issues. An odour-neutralizing chemical was introduced, but complaints kept coming in. Residents said the odour was at times like sewage and other times like chemicals.
The town sought help from the provincial municipal affairs and environment departments to avail of their expertise. Subsequent investigations led the town to replace the blower, but it didn’t seem to make a big difference.
Then, last summer, a massive clean-up of the sewage plant occurred. During that time, several pipes were found to be corroded and were replaced, and so far, the odour seems to have disappeared.
The residents who attended the meeting say they haven't experienced the odour since November.
Mihajlovic says since the work, tests showed plant emissions are better than required.
Mayor Wayne Button says there was a lot of work done to discover and mitigate the problem and he thanked not only the workers and town employees but also the residents who continued to report the problem. Button said the town is thrilled to have this put behind them.
Federal and provincial funding has been made available for water and sewer treatment, but could not be accessed in this case.
Cathy Etsell, chief administrative officer for the town, indicated the cost of fixing the odour problem was roughly $10,000, which included replacement parts and the work that was done, as well as rental of some equipment the town did not have.
The town has scheduled more frequent inspections and cleaning of the sewer treatment plant to hopefully avoid any future problems, but is asking people to call if they ever notice an odour in the future.
As for Beson and Osmond, they plan to spend lots of time in their backyard with their dogs in the future to make up for the time they've missed out on over the last few years.