Halifax farmer Allison Willis woke up to the smell of raw sewage every day for 19 years. “You know what s–t smells like. It was terrible. I had to keep my windows closed. I couldn’t go outside.”
The odious odour ended last year, when a nearby sewage treatment plant that had been polluting the lake near Willis’s property was closed. But that wasn’t enough for Willis, 70. He sued the city of Halifax, demanding compensation for the years he was unable to enjoy his property. Last month a Nova Scotia court awarded him $81,000 in damages.
Halifax city council isn’t happy, and is appealing the ruling. “I want to be sure that all the evidence has been considered,” says the city’s deputy mayor, David Hendsbee. “Were there any other contributing factors that were not brought to the attention or the understanding of the judge?”
While he admits that the sewage treatment plant may have been emitting a foul smell, Hendsbee claims the municipality did everything it reasonably could to prevent the facility from becoming a public nuisance. According to Hendsbee, local pig farmers should also shoulder some of the blame. They’ve been dumping animal waste into city sewers, overloading a system that’s only meant to deal with household effluence.
A date has not been set for the city’s appeal, but council fears that the ruling will motivate other city residents to launch similar lawsuits. “The question is the slippery slope. If you let the first one through the gate will there be a flood of more later?”
Hendsbee says that he has no problem paying compensation—but he doesn’t believe the city should have to foot the entire bill. He suggests that a communal solution, drawing money from both the city and the province, could be a better resolution. “There’s a shared responsibility across the board here,” he claims. “Why should the municipality be stuck holding the bag?