By Chad Ingram
A lgonquin Highlands council will ask the owner of a property near Maple Lake being used for the field spreading of septic waste to request a zoning bylaw amendment for the operation of the site although it’s not clear what bearing if any a vote by council would have.
On Sept. 15 the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change issued certification for the operation of the site and a week later the operator was fined for failing to comply with one of the many conditions the ministry has put on the property.
In that case it was spreading with the wind blowing the direction of neighbouring residences.
The property located off the 25th line is about a kilometre from Maple Lake and a group of residents there has rallied against the project with the Maple Beech and Cameron Lakes’ Area Property Owners’ Association also advocating against the land use.
The MOECC’s approval process does not require public input nor input from council.
However there is language in the process that says operators must do their best to abide by existing regulations and council has been seeking advice on actions it may be able to take to see the township’s zoning bylaw adhered to.
“Over the past several weeks Algonquin Highlands council has sought both legal and planning advice has received extensive information and clarification directly from MOECC has been engaged with the public and has held two long council discussions on the issue” Algonquin Highlands Reeve Carol Moffatt wrote in an email.
Moffatt stressed council recognizes the ministry has put substantial conditions on the property that area residents are extremely upset and are working together in an organized manner and that the MOECC has been attentive to taxpayers’ concerns and has been forthcoming with information in discussion with both the public and the municipality.
“A variety of complexities arose during the research and discussion undertaken by council” she wrote. “In the end council’s primary concern isn’t so much field spreading itself which is a provincially-recognized and regionally-necessary activity; its concern is one of process around planning and zoning. From a planning perspective the site on 25th Line is a technically illegal use according to the municipality’s zoning regulations: the land is classified as rural and a waste disposal facility is not permitted in a rural zone under the municipality’s comprehensive zoning bylaw. In planning there are often cases of legal non-conforming use commonly called ‘grandfathering’ however this new site would not qualify for such a classification simply because it’s now up and running. The challenge for Algonquin Highlands and other municipalities is that a gap in the MOECC licensing process hinders the ability of a municipality to either enforce the zoning bylaw being contravened or to participate in any collaborative or preferred solutions.”
Along with asking the property owner to request a zoning bylaw amendment Algonquin Highlands council will send a letter to the MOECC expressing its concern with the lack of municipal consultation in the licensing application process.
Council also intends to pursue the matter with ministers at conferences provide stronger language related to septic field spreading in the township’s zoning bylaw and official plan and to facilitate a discussion about potential county-wide solutions for sewage at the upper tier of the county council table.