The Town of Huntingdon is resorting to dramatic measures to require Maison Russet Inc. to comply with municipal discharge standards for the treatment of wastewater. In a statement, Huntingdon announced it would cease treating wastewater from the plant, which specializes in the production of sweet potato products, until the company respects wastewater concentrations set out in the industrial agreement concerning the use of municipal wastewater treatment facilities. Huntingdon’s mayor, André Brunette, clarifies by saying that the company has been given ten days as of February 27 to conform to discharge standards, or the town will restrict access to its municipal sewer system.
“For the last seven years, we have been communicating that there will come a time when we can’t treat their residues,” says Brunette. “We have been trying to find solutions, and we did find solutions, but they are not applying them,” he says, suggesting the relatively recent installation of a pre-treatment system at the factory is insufficient. He alleges that despite being aware of the issue, the company increased its production.
In December 2022, the town mandated an independent consulting firm to conduct a continuous characterization of Maison Russet’s discharges over a seven-day period. The report showed loads that averaged 336 per cent above maximum daily allowances.
‘It’s killing the oxygen.’
Brunette explains the discharge is significantly increasing the volume of sludge in the aerated ponds of the treatment plant. The nature of the organic materials in the wastewater is affecting the oxygenation in the ponds, which results in an unfortunate odour.
To prepare for what could be an especially pungent spring, the town has already procured portable surface aerators to help mitigate the problem. But Brunette says he is already dreading the unavoidable return of the stench. “I am always worried about May,” he says, noting that he and municipal councillors have been threatened in the past over the smell. He confirms the company pays fines regularly to the town when they surpass the discharge limits, but this goes directly toward paying for the equipment needed to mitigate the smell.
Brunette also points to the provincial regulation respecting municipal wastewater works that holds the town accountable for meeting discharge standards, and provides for administrative penalties of $10,000 and the possibility of imprisonment for up to three years for operators of facilities found to be non-compliant. In addition, significant fines can be levied against the town that range from $6,000 to $30,000. Brunette says the town is now up against a wall. “We can’t treat it,” says Brunette, and the provincial government has grown impatient.
In an email, Claudie Bonhomme, the senior director of culture and organisation at Maison Russet, confirmed the company is working closely with municipal authorities to find and implement sustainable solutions to the problem. She points out the company has collaborated on many initiatives to improve wastewater quality and that they will continue to do so. “We are currently implementing solutions to minimize the quantity of wastewater but also to minimize the load of organic material in the wastewater,” she explains, noting they are committed to finding sustainable solutions that meet environmental regulations.
A meeting between the Town of Huntingdon and Maison Russet was planned for March 7, when representatives from the town were expected to tour the facilities. In advance of the meeting, Brunette says he is optimistic that a solution can be found. “There is no talk of closing the plant down,” he says. “We are not at war.”