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Rotary Club helps curb pollution in Caribbean

Special Photo
 A girl waters plants growing at the wetland area at the Mero Beach Restroom and Wastewater Treatment Facility. 

Special Photo A girl waters plants growing at the wetland area at the Mero Beach Restroom and Wastewater Treatment Facility. 

The villagers in the coastal town of Mero in Dominica had a problem. Their untreated wastewater flowed out of a pipe directly into the sea. Mary Beth Sutton, relative of Conyers Rotary Club member Barbara McCarthy, discovered the sewage when she swam right through it while snorkeling.

"Through the years, people didn't talk about it because they didn't see a solution," said McCarthy of the pollution. "They thought the ocean would take care of it."

An environmental activist and educator, Sutton felt compelled to help the people of Mero and the ocean that serves as a major resource for the village. She contacted McCarthy to inquire about getting aid from the Conyers Rotary Club.

The Conyers Rotary Club reached out to the Dominica Rotary Club and the two clubs initiated the idea for a wastewater treatment facility and new comfort station at Mero Beach. The beach is located on the Caribbean island of Dominica and is popular with both locals and tourists.

The clubs completed the project in July and the facility is in operation. It features a concrete block building with hot and cold running water, men's and women's bathrooms with several toilets, showers and three large sinks for washing clothes.

Most importantly, wastewater flows into a septic tank and then through wetlands comprised of three constructed underground chambers. At the end of the treatment process, the water is clean and enters into the ocean.

McCarthy, who traveled to Dominica in July for the dedication of the facility, said there are no toilets in most people's homes. Waste is usually put into a bucket and dumped into the ocean. The Mero restrooms should improve that disposal process, she said.

It should also give women another place to wash their laundry, besides the sewage ditches where they are used to washing it.

The facility is also accommodating Haitian refugees who have migrated to the island after the January earthquake.

"The thing is used constantly," said McCarthy of the bathroom, shower and sink center. "There are lines to use it."

The project carried a price tag of $45,000. The Conyers Rotary Club worked to raise the money along with the Dominica Rotary Club, the Rockdale Rotary Club, the North River Rotary Club in Chattanooga (of which Sutton is a member), the Canton Rotary Club, Rotary District 6910 and The Rotary Foundation.

A retired Tennessee Valley Authority engineer volunteered to design, engineer and guide the construction of the facility and the wetland treatment area.

Mero village children also participated in a Water Week Day Camp. They learned how the wastewater is filtered through the sand, rock and plant areas and how to monitor the effluent.

McCarthy said the project took four years to complete, only 10 months of which there was actual construction. Changes in Rotary leadership and a slower pace of life in Dominca caused delays.

"The biggest lesson I learned was patience and perseverance and that we all don't operate on the same clock," McCarthy said. "It just shows you have to be committed in the long run."

After the Dominica television stations broadcast the story of the new facility, the Dominica Rotary Club received several calls from other communities wanting to construct similar systems. McCarthy said she hopes the facility will be replicated in other villages throughout the island.

McCarthy said the relationships her club developed with the club in Dominica lies at the heart of the project.

"The number one thing is the friendship, the international friendship that is formed when a Rotary Club here works with a Rotary Club in another country, because that's one of Rotary's purposes is international understanding and peace," she said.

"There's no better way to do that than through friendships."