HUNDREDS of tonnes of sand have been removed from the beach in Musselburgh after a sewage spill just days before the start of the town’s annual festival.
A squad of workmen with a bulldozer, JCB and dumper truck were called in to tackle a “crust” which formed on the sands east of Fisherrow harbour after the main sewer overflowed during heavy rain.
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has launched an inquiry and ordered a report from Scottish Water on the incident.
John McNeil, Labour councillor for Musselburgh West, said the workmen had removed 190 tonnes of sand yesterday and were due to return today to take away a further 180 tonnes.
But he claimed there had been a delay in Scottish Water responding to the spill, which he said was first reported on Monday evening.
He said: “This is costing thousands of pounds. They are doing a great job. It’s going to look perfect.
“But questions have to be asked. Why did they leave it so long before responding?”
He said he understood the spillage occurred because Eastfield pumping station at Joppa could not cope with the volume of sewage, boosted by heavy rain, and it flowed back through a manhole on to the beach.
He first got a call about it on Thursday. “It was a bit of a shock,” he said.
“We were left with a crust on the east sands. We decided to close the beach on a temporary basis because we didn’t know if it was contaminated or not.”
He said a “ravine” about two feet deep and ten feet wide had also opened up in the beach.
The workmen have been filling that in as well as dealing with the sewage spill.
Cllr McNeil said more than 200 horses were due to race along the beach on Monday night at the start of the Musselburgh Festival.
“It would have been a huge disappointment to the town if that had not been able to go ahead,” he said.
Community councillor Alan Hay said although recent rainfall had been exceptional, he feared a sewage spill could happen again.
He said: “They should look at putting in some sort of system so it cannot back-flow again like that.”
A Scottish Water spokesman said: “We were made aware of a discharging manhole on Tuesday morning at 7.30am near the Fisherrow pumping station which then led to us investigating the network further.
“Due to the exceptionally heavy rainfall, the sewer overflow – designed in times of heavy rainfall to avoid internal sewer flooding of homes – was discharging screened storm waters and this resulted in some debris on the beach and displacement of sand.
“Due to issues getting a JCB on site to restore the sand profile and the tidal timings we were unable to get this work completed until now.
“We apologise for any inconvenience as a result of this work and the delay in getting the beach restored to normal.” Sepa said it had received a report from a member of the public about a sewage discharge at Fisherrow.
A spokesman said: “Sepa has been out inspecting the beach and can confirm that the discharge has stopped and there is no ongoing environmental impact. Sepa is currently investigating and has written to Scottish Water requiring a report into the circumstances of the incident.”