By Sue Tiffin
The 2021 Minden Hills septic re-inspection program that began in June has ended, with a reported 742 properties of 1,063 – or about 70 per cent – being inspected by Sept. 16 this year.
Representatives of WSP Canada Inc., the contractor hired by the township to conduct the inspections, made a delegation to council at a special meeting held virtually on Oct. 4 noting their company’s staff departures, an unexpected phone system change, a larger volume of calls and emails and homeowner changes as the reasons for program delays and the frustration some residents had with the program.
Though inspections continued up until Sept. 27, as of Sept. 16 there were 321 properties that were missed this year and will be postponed to next year.
Staff departures from WSP Canada were cited in Katelyn Sysiuk and Camille Taylor’s report as being the cause for “delays in the reporting progress,” with reports from June and July currently being reviewed. To date, 151 reports have been sent to properties that had their inspection completed.
The report also notes that the first year of the program typically results in many questions from homeowners, and that “WSP experienced a larger than anticipated volume of calls and emails, which led to increased response times.”
Additional delays were experienced when WSP IT infrastructure was “unexpectedly transitioned from Skype-based phone applications to MS Teams in July and Aug. 2021. Although our IT department had assured us that there would be no impacts on our service, we did experience an issue with our voicemail system for the program which was not properly activated and therefore callers could not leave a message.”
Staff departures at the company included the program co-ordinator who left in June, causing internal reassignments of existing staff “to minimize impacts to the program.” In August with further staff departures, staff working in the background were asked to take on more responsibility.
“This started in Ward 2, so I probably got most of the phone calls if there was a hiccup in the road,” said Councillor Pam Sayne. “One of the things I want to assure, is that there was a lot of difficulty regarding, you know, getting enough people on board right away to coordinate the timing of the inspections. People weren’t getting responses back, and yet the letter that we sent out talked about fines and all sorts of issues. A lot of people were very nervous, they were trying to do the right thing, but they just found it pretty overwhelming. And so I want to just confirm that no one has gotten any fines at this point, particularly because of our difficulty in communications.”
“We may have a few exceptions, which we haven’t finished tabulating, but everybody that communicated with us and left a voice mail or email to rebook or to cancel, there [were] no fines applied to date,” responded Taylor.
Councillor Bob Carter questioned if there were common reasons why the missed properties – about 30 per cent – weren’t completed.
Sysiuk said about 55 property owners failed to show up for the inspection, but the bulk of those missed were for homeowner changes, resulting in the company getting updated mailing information to book those properties next year.
“Obviously the fear is that if there is somebody whose system is woefully inadequate, they may be trying to duck the program so I just wanted to make sure that we don’t have that type of a situation going on,” said Carter. He then asked what response the program was getting from property owners.
“We’ve been having positive responses from our inspectors that have been on site,” said Sysiuk. “I think homeowners have been able to kind of learn a bit more about their system on their site, and how to take care of it and how to [make it] last as long as it can. So all of our field staff have had positive feedback from homeowners … And then, as far as reaching back to homeowners who had phoned us … we’re setting up for next year to be able to respond to those a bit sooner so hopefully there’s less fear with the program and anxiety about booking those inspections or changing the date of it if it doesn’t work for them.”
The WSP report says the company “will work with the township of Minden Hills to apply any lessons learned as part of the program in 2021 to improve the program for 2022.” Letters will be reworded to be more clear, and more staff will be hired.
The township was the last of the county’s four lower-tier municipalities to launch a mandatory inspection program required by the provincial government.
As previously reported, properties are scheduled to be inspected during a phased, five-year period. The first zone, where septic system inspections began this year, includes Gull and Moore lakes and surrounding areas south of Minden.
The upfront costs for the township – including fees paid to the firm for scheduling, mapping, risk assessment, public education, etc. as well as labour, legal and supplies costs – have totalled $82,500.
Conducted on a cost-recovery basis, the lid-off inspections will cost property owners $240; a $225.55 fee per site, as well as a $15 administration fee designed to cover the township’s in-house costs for administering the program. Should property owners opt to use a firm other than WSP, they’ll pay the same $240 fee, as well as $150 for a third-party review fee.
A further detailed report and delegation to council by WSP Canada is expected later this year. The company was also used by the Township of Algonquin Highlands and the Municipality of Dysart et al for their programs.
with files from the Minden Times