July 5-12, 2004

Labour dispute places treatment plant effectiveness at risk

NELSON, BC-Nelson city workers, who have been locked out since mid-June as part of a labour dispute with the municipal government, interrupted their Canada Day celebrations when two sewage treatment plant operators, working reduced hours due to the lockout, discovered contaminated water entering the Kootenay River. Digesters at the facility had become overloaded and were releasing untreated effluent with high coliform counts into the Kootenay water system. The city workers immediately volunteered to extend their hours of essential service provision to ensure digesters are operating regularly and the city's water supply is safe. The incident was the second in two days: on June 30, the same workers narrowly averted a sewage overflow from the North Shore Lift station. An electrical failure had caused the pump and safety alarms to malfunction, which in turn failed to alert crews that raw sewage had risen to less than a foot from the top of the lift station tank. Had it overflowed, it would have gone onto the ground and leaked into the Kootenay River. At issue in the labour dispute are wages and job security. Bargaining, which had been suspended, resumed with a mediator's assistance on June 28 but negotiations collapsed again within a few days. CUPE 339, which represents the workers, has expressed concern about the potential for environmental harm as the lockout continues, leaving uncertified managers to operate the treatment facility.
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