The stink has stopped – at least for now.
Residents of Richibucto, N.B., can now take a deep breath after the province temporarily shut down a putrid-smelling crustacean waste-processing plant that has sparked lawsuits and plagued the townspeople off and on for years.
The province shuttered Coastal Shell Products Thursday for not meeting its conditions of approval to operate, after a heated debate in the New Brunswick Legislature this week and recent media coverage from The Globe, among others, about the community’s fight to ‘Stop the stink.’
Residents in the town have long complained about the acrid, gag-inducing fecal stink aerating from the plant, which began operating in 2016. Coastal Shell, formerly Omera Shells, trucks in the waste of lobster, crab and shrimp shells to its facility at the end of a residential street. The shells are fed into a propane-burning dryer, according to the company’s provincial permit issued by the Department of Environment and Climate Change. They are crushed, sorted and bagged for export to Asia to be used as fertilizer and pet food, and to make chitosan, a compound studied for use in medications and tissue engineering.
Environment Minister Gary Crossman said in a statement that an inspector from his department confirmed odours were being generated by the improper storage of shell waste on the company’s property. “Coastal Shells won’t be allowed to reopen until it has a plan to bring it back into compliance,” he said in the statement.
The shutdown comes as a welcome reprieve for the community. Thursday night residents rejoiced, sitting on their stoops in the drizzle and breathing in the fresh spring air unadulterated by stink.
“To sit in nature and just breathe – it made me realize this is what we are fighting for,” said Maisie McNaughton, a member of the citizen-led Kent Clean Air Action Committee and founder of the “Stop the stink” sign campaign. “But we know it’s not done. It’s far from done, and that’s the heartbreaking thing.”
Claudette Robichaud, who lives 400 metres from the plant, said she felt peace opening her windows for the first night in months and breathing fresh air, but she is worried about the future. “It’s a little win, but then in the back of your mind, it’s like, ‘When are they going to be able to operate again? Am I just having this little fantasy time for a week and then it’s going to be hell all over again?’” she said.
The plant operates near a recreation centre, a seniors’ complex and a school and daycare, where teachers, children and staff fled in the middle of the day this week after an unbearable stink permeated the building. Some parents have started to keep their children home in protest of the stink. And the school has an evacuation plan for when the stink strikes.
Earlier this week, Mr. Crossman was pummelled with questions in the legislature about the smell. Kevin Arseneau, Green Party MLA for Kent North, demanded the minister pull the permit of the plant and pleaded with fellow lawmakers to help the people of Richibucto, which was recently amalgamated into the town of Beaurivage on the Northumberland Strait. If the laws aren’t strong enough to stop this company from spewing stink, he said, members should be working to change them.
Mr. Crossman said the province has provided the company with a month-long extension to raise funds to buy odour-control equipment. Staff members of the New Brunswick government have visited the plant and completed odour surveys, he said. “It just can’t be as easy as fixing overnight. It does take time, and we want to do it right,” Mr. Crossman said.
On Wednesday this week, the Francophone Sud School District closed the school during a teachers’ conference because of the stink. The daycare inside École Soleil Levant was forced to relocate its 11 children to another one of its child-care centres because of the unbearable rotten stench, said Cathy Hébert, an early-childhood educator at La Boussole.
“It was quite an ordeal. It disrupted everything,” Ms. Hébert said. “If it happens again and there’s no space at that daycare, what are we to do?”
Coastal Shell did not respond to a request for comment but has previously said it wants to work with the community toward a harmonious solution to the issue.