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Halifax mayor, Peter Kelly makes his way out of the water at Black Rock Beach, near Point Pleasant Park, in Halifax in August, 2008. The mayor made a point of swimming in the harbour to celebrate the $333-million sewage treatment project's completion.

Sandor Fizli/Sandor Fizli 2008

Unsightly waste products known as "floatables" are once again bobbing along the waterfront in Halifax harbour.

The last barriers between the city's raw sewage and the harbour are being taken out of operation.

Mayor Peter Kelly confirms screens have been removed from four of eight sewage outfall pipes, and the rest are coming out soon. That means materials including condoms, toilet paper and tampon applicators are back.

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The mayor says the screens "have been going full tilt" since the downtown sewage treatment plant failed in mid-January. Officials are looking at equipment to replace the screens, but the mayor says that depends on the cost and time.

The plant has been out of operation since Jan. 14, after a problem with hydraulic doors caused the plant to fill with nearly seven million litres of sewage.

As of last month, the extent of the damage still wasn't known and officials still had not pinpointed what caused the equipment malfunction.

The initial setback came just weeks after the city took ownership of the $332-million project, which includes four waste-water treatment facilities and took years of construction and difficult negotiations between three levels of government.

Last summer, the mayor and other city officials strode into the harbour in their swimming trunks to proclaim the water safe and the beaches open after decades of closure due to high coliform counts.

The treatment project was supposed to put an end to Halifax's notoriety as one of the few remaining Canadian cities that had allowed fecal matter, tampons, condoms and anything else flushed down the toilet to stream into its bustling harbour for 250 years.

But critics have said that in choosing an "advanced primary" treatment system, the city opted for the cheapest technology available and will pay the price for it.

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