Municipal officials in Cap-Pelé are hoping Aboiteau Beach can become the first Blue Flag-certified beach in the province by the summer of 2018.
Twenty-six beaches across Canada hold the designation — a large number of them in Ontario — which is awarded on a yearly basis to beaches that meet strict criteria for water quality, among other things.
But now Cap-Pelé residents fear news of a planned 273-site campground in Aboiteau Park, less than a kilometre away from the beach, will threaten the water quality there.
Aboiteau Beach has avoided the public scrutiny focused on Parlee Beach, which made headlines in recent months for its poor water quality. Despite being less developed and less crowded, tests at Aboiteau last summer revealed the presence of fecal bacteria over safe swimming levels on some days.
- On June 23, the west side of the beach had 76 fecal streptococci/100 ml of water
- On July 4, the east side of the beach had 118 fecal streptococci/100 ml of water, and the west side 128 fecal streptococci/100 ml water
- On Aug. 17, the east side of the beach had 42 fecal streptococci/100 ml of water, the west side 114 fecal streptococci/100 ml
Although Aboiteau Beach was clean on eight other sampling days last summer, those three results exceeded federal standards for safe swimming of 70 streptococci/100 ml in a single sample, or 35 streptococci/100 ml when averaging samples from various locations.
Based on 2016, Aboiteau would not have qualified for the Blue Flag certification, which stipulates that a beach must meet national recreational water quality standards at least 80 per cent of the time.
That's why some residents feel if Aboiteau has any hope at cleaning up its act, the municipality needs to slow down development, not allow the building of a large trailer park near the shore.
Natasha Bell was asked by the village council last fall to join a committee to work toward the Blue Flag certification for Aboiteau.
That's why she was so shocked by the news of the campground development.
"The first thing that went through my mind is how could the village of Cap-Pelé invite me to form a committee, not six months ago, for I guess an environmental cause, to protect my beach, to protect my community, and then turn around and tell me 273 trailers with, you know, a bouncy pillow and a swimming pool, were going to be proposed," said Bell.
"The two things seemed at conflict with each other."
For Bell, the link between over-development and water quality is clear, and she fears it will be difficult to continue working toward a Blue Flag designation.
"That's going to require a lot of work if this proposal goes through," she said. "I don't see how that can happen."
The Village of Cap-Pelé hopes to get the recognition for the 2018 season.
"We're still working with Blue Flag," said Mayor Serge Léger. "We're almost done with it, and if we can be marked as a Blue Flag, it's going to be a big honour for us.
"It would give us great visibility."
Léger said the committee has been going down Blue Flag's checklist — 33 strict criteria, including everything from having an appropriate number of lifeguards at the beach, to clean and accessible restrooms.
But clear water quality is the one that remains an issue.
Brett Tryon, national program manager for Blue Flag Canada, said Aboiteau Beach will need to continue water-quality sampling this coming summer before being considered.
"We're hoping that they'll apply by 2018," Tryon said. "We're really thrilled to hopefully have a beach from New Brunswick get the award.
"They have made a lot of improvements and they're very close to meeting all of the criteria."
If Aboiteau Beach takes part in the Blue Flag program, fecal bacteria results would be posted daily at the beach, as well as on Blue Flag's website.