By Chad Ingram
The operator of a sewage spreading site near Maple Lake has been fined by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change shortly after receiving approval from the ministry for the operation of the site.
John Crouter agricultural environmental officer with the MOECC confirmed that on Sept. 23 ministry staff visited the property off Highway 118 and found the operator had not complied with ministry regulations spreading sewage when the wind was blowing toward area residents.
Haliburton Septic Pumping was fined $365.
The MOECC had just issued approval for the site on Sept. 15 amid significant backlash from area residents.
During the summer a group of Maple Lake residents banded together in protest of the spreading application.
The spreading takes places on about a two-acre swath of a 96-acre property located about a kilometre from Maple Lake on 25th line.
It’s uphill from some 120 Maple Lake residences and residents collected more than 1200 signatures on a petition against the facility. They are worried about contaminated groundwater the health and safety of those living nearby and the decline of property values. The group has dubbed itself Our Grandchildren Matter Too (OGMT).
The MOECC has established a number of restrictions for the operation of the facility.
“Spreading has only been approved on roughly two acres of the 96-acre site and the approval contains a number of conditions to control odours and protect the environment and surrounding community” Crouter told the paper. “For example a portion of the site will be bermed to prevent runoff minimum setback distances were increased restrictions were placed on when spreading can occur and how soon materials need to be incorporated into the ground and monitoring wells will be installed. As a further condition of the approval the proponent is required to consult with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry regarding species at risk. The approval requires the installation and maintenance of exclusion fencing to protect the Blanding’s turtles.”
A species at risk Blanding’s turtles have been known to inhabit the property.
The paper asked if the approval could be revoked if the operator continued to fail to comply with regulations.
“We will continue to address and consider any concerns raised by the public regarding the site and will inspect the site to ensure it’s operating in accordance with approval requirements” Crouter responded.
Dave Elstone owns Haliburton Septic Pumping and told the paper he’s doing his best to comply with the long list of restrictions he’s been given by the ministry.
“They’ve got so many conditions on me” he said. “It’s making it very difficult for me to operate my business.”
“Basically when the wind is coming out of the south I can’t spread” Elstone explained adding that last week the wind was coming from an easterly direction when he spread on the field.
“The wind changed” he said.
Elstone added that residents at Maple Lake “are a mile from me.”
Andy Muirhead is president of the Maple Beech and Cameron Lakes’ Area Property Owners Association (MBC).
MBC opposed the application for the facility trying to convince authorities that the property is an inappropriate and unworkable site.
“We may have been surprised that Haliburton Septic received a fine so quickly after receiving an Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) and beginning operations but there was never any doubt that there would be problems and complaints” Muirhead wrote in an email to the paper. “The work of the MBC and OGMT along with the support of hundreds of others appears to have made some difference along the way; the review of the application revision of the site plans and imposition of restrictive operating and monitoring conditions were far more rigorous and strict than would otherwise have been the case but in the end the inability of an operator to avoid violating the conditions imposed on his ECA – even for a week – proves the points that we have been making.”
Muirhead criticized the approval process for not requiring consultation with or even notification of people in the immediate area.
“We do not believe that this site can be operated even with tighter controls and conditions without further and potentially greater impacts than ‘mere’ odours whether or not Haliburton Septic adheres to its ECA” Muirhead wrote. “Two out of three MOECC ‘technical support documents’ attached to the ECA recommend that the operator seek more suitable areas with greater separation distances because of potential odour and water quality impacts; complaints and problems were actually expected.”
Muirhead believes the province should take a more assertive role and that municipalities must follow their official plans and address the need for septic disposal capacity in the community.
“Our county and townships have within their official plans and bylaws much stronger restrictions and specific zonings for waste disposal but unfortunately and thus far interpretations and advice received mean that no one is quite sure whether these are worth the paper they’re written on” Muirhead wrote.
“At very least our municipal authorities must act on longstanding plans to fully assess our needs for septic disposal capacity and at least start the work laid out in their official plans. The province must step up and assist the municipal level to meet the capacity requirements and stop using the lack of capacity as an excuse for continuing inappropriate practices in unsuitable areas.
“One way or another this is going to cost us all a bit more at pumping time but isn’t that better than costing one operator some money a few people the value of their homes and future generations their lakes and rivers?”
Bill Missen is one of the concerned Maple Lake residents who’s led the charge against the site.
“I’m not surprised but I’m glad that the ministry is taking this seriously” Missen said of the fine.
Missen said residents are upset approval of the facility was granted and criticized the process for its lack of public input.
He’s also hopeful there’s still something the Township of Algonquin Highlands may be able to do.
Algonquin Highlands council did seek a legal opinion on the matter this summer and concluded that rezoning of the property was not required for the facility to operate.
“The legal opinion advised that field spreading was the subject of a recent OMB decision wherein the OMB considers the spreading of biosolids as a permitted agricultural use” Reeve Carol Moffatt wrote in an email. “Since agricultural uses are permitted in a rural designation the use of the subject property for field spreading is considered permitted and therefore an official plan or zoning bylaw amendment will not be required.”