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‘This is a crisis’: Stench envelops Cape Breton town known for golf resorts

Known for its two world-class golf resorts, a former coal mining town in Cape Breton is quickly gaining a reputation for something other than spectacular seaside fairways.

In recent weeks, Inverness, N.S., has become one of the most foul-smelling communities on the island.

With the putrid stench of human waste wafting from an overworked sewage lagoon, residents say the local infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the town’s growth since the courses started attracting golfers from around the world.

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“This is a crisis,” says Rose Mary MacDonald, president of the Inverness Development Association.

“People are running, they’re covering their mouths, they’re going in their houses and closing the windows. It’s that bad.”

The smell is worse than rotten eggs, she says, adding that golfers were recently spotted gagging on the greens.

“They were holding their noses and saying, ‘Mother of God, what is that?”‘ MacDonald says. “It’s going to stunt our growth. It’s embarrassing.”

READ MORE: New biolfilter clearing up sewage stink plaguing Lunenburg, N.S.

The fetid waste-water facility is adjacent to Cabot Links, which opened in 2011 – marking the start of the revival of a hardscrabble town that withered after its last coal mine closed in the 1990s.

The challenging course, which sits on the abandoned mine site, has been hailed by golf connoisseurs as an unpolished gem that evokes the game’s Scottish linksland heritage.

Aside from the golf courses, Inverness is also known for its spectacular 1.5-kilometre beach, part of which has been closed to swimmers because of elevated bacteria counts.

Earlier this week, more than 200 residents – some wearing gas masks – gathered outside the Miners Museum in the town to call on the federal and provincial governments to help the municipality replace a facility that was designed to last only until 1993.

The municipality has already applied for a $6.3-million grant, but the area’s member of Parliament, Liberal Rodger Cuzner, has said the town will have to wait until the next round of funding is approved after the federal election in October.

Betty Ann MacQuarrie, warden of the Municipality of the County of Inverness, said the problem is so bad emergency funding is needed.

“There has to be something done in the interim to conquer what’s happening there,” she said, adding that short-term repairs have failed.

“I don’t know of anybody who likes to sit out on a deck and eat while that smell is wafting through the air. In the heat, the muggy days, it’s there.”

MacDonald was more blunt: “Put a push on it, and get it done. Cut the red tape.”

Cuzner, who is not seeking re-election, did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Inverness keeps growing.

The second links-style golf course, Cabot Cliffs, opened in 2016. Later that year, Golf Digest magazine ranked it as the 19th finest course in the world – a rare compliment for a Canadian venue.

In town, there’s a new brewery called Route 19, which has a restaurant that can hold 300 people. And there’s been plenty of residential development for a community with a population of about 2,000.

“A lot of our youth are home now,” says MacDonald, referring to the reversal of the out-migration trend that had come to define Cape Breton. “They’re raising their own children. They have jobs. It’s all good. And it can get better, but we’ve got to take care of the infrastructure.”

READ MORE: City blames smell permeating Moncton’s north end on sewer project

There’s also been a concerted push – backed by two former premiers – to have the province and Ottawa pay for construction of an $18-million airport to handle the steady stream of private jets carrying well-heeled golfers to the island.

However, that proposal hit a snag last month when federal cabinet minister Bernadette Jordan said the proponents had failed to explain how the project would “respond to Cape Breton’s needs.”

As for the treatment plant, concerns are now being raised about air quality and the impact on the local fisheries.

Photos of the lagoon’s outfall pipe show bubbling black sludge spreading across the surface of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Inverness will have to find ways of making the town a little more livable in the interim,” says MacQuarrie. “Hopefully, there will be emergency funding to help us out.”

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