Maple Lake group blasts sewage field expansion
|By Alex Coop - Staff Writer | April 20, 2017|
Maple Lake residents are giving Haliburton Septic Pumping owner David Elstone an earful over his application to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) to expand his spreading field in Algonquin Highlands.
It comes as no surprise to Elstone, who lives on Eagle Lake, and has done sewage surface spreading for more than six years. His field at Highway 118 and 25th Line Road has frustrated residents in the area since it first opened September 2015.
While he understands the environmental concerns – the government of Ontario tried, and failed, to create a five-year strategy to ban the practice in 2002 – the recent backlash against his proposal is a case of NIMBYism, he says.
“They’re getting a lot of things wrong,” he said, pointing to a recent press release by “Our Grandchildren Matter Too,” (OGMT) a group of Maple Lake residents. “I’ve never met any of them … they hide behind their Facebook page.”
He describes the group’s attacks as a form of online bullying. Elstone points out how members of the group haven’t reached out to him since 2015, before he received the ministry’s approval for his field.
His Environmental Compliance Approval (ECA) includes a berm on the north to prevent runoff, increases to minimum setbacks and restrictions on when spreading can occur.
Elstone’s application to expand the field from .85 to 1.6 hectares is not for additional waste volume, but to spread the same amount of waste across a larger area.
The field was previously used as a farm, which is the type of property best suited for field spreading, he adds.
“The thinner I can spread it, the faster it dries and the easier it is to manage,” Elstone explained.
The ministry has posted a notice about the proposal on the Environmental Registry for a 45-day period for public comment. The deadline is May 22.
Alternatives to field spreading
- Septic drain fields. Also called leach fields or leach drains. These are subsurface wastewater disposal facilities used to remove contaminants the liquid that emerge from a septic tank.
- Sewage lagoons. These are large ponds into which the sewage or effluent from the sewage system flows. The sewage is broken down by germs in the lagoon.
The MOECC will review and consider all information provided through the EBR posting, as well as all technical information gathered by ministry staff, once the public comment period has closed.
Murray Adam, OGMT’s spokesperson, confirmed the group has not attempted to reach Elstone recently or visit the site. But that doesn’t mean their concerns aren’t valid, he says, adding more than 70 comments have been submitted to the registry. They’ve also analyzed the site extensively through Google Maps.
“We understand we’re never going to have a sewer system here. The geography of the township does not allow for it,” he said. “Haulers provide an invaluable service to the county, but this site is in the wrong place. It’s 100 per cent about the location.
“In our opinion, it’s too close to the wetlands and too close to the lake.”
There is a wetland to the west of the field. The spreading field’s setback from the wetland is more than 60 m. Maple Lake is about a kilometre north of the site.
Blanding turtles have been seen in the area as well, Adam says, and while they aren’t an endangered species as the OGMT’s press release claims, they are a threatened species, according to the province’s list of species at risk.
Three drilled water wells surround the site and are monitored by the MOECC three times a year.
OGMT claims numerous complaints have been lodged against Haliburton Septic Pumping. A MOECC spokesperson confirmed the ministry received a complaint July 30, 2016 related to odours generated from the site. The ministry’s Investigations and Enforcement Branch is investigating.
Flooding issues are also of concern, Adam says. If flooding is as bad as the spring of 2013, he said the septage would easily enter the lake system.
The legality of the site has come into question as well.
“This is an illegal waste disposal site,” Adam said, pointing to the county and township’s official plans. While the land on which the field is located isn’t zoned to permit the use of a waste disposal site, according to the township’s zoning bylaw, Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act and ECA approvals do not require a rezoning of the property for field spreading.
Algonquin Highlands asked Elstone to apply for a zoning amendment to change the zoning from rural to waste/industrial.
But Elstone refused, citing the numerous restrictions that have already been applied to the operation of his site, in accordance with the ECA.
He’s also hired an engineering company to oversee some of the technical aspects of the site.
A change in zoning would make the field nearly impossible to use for field spreading, he says, as the setbacks would be increased significantly.
The lack of control over these types of files is frustrating, says the county’s planner Charlsey White.
“It would be great if councils had that decision-making power, but even at the county level, we don’t have that,” said White.
Algonquin Highlands spent a lot of 2015 looking at how much power it had over planning and land use when it came to field spreading.
Despite much pressure from Maple Lake residents, the township ultimately decided not to pursue a court injunction against Haliburton Septic Pumping.
A press release issued by the township last February said it would be “exceptionally difficult, extremely costly and likely to fail with the ultimate outcome anticipated to be the continuance of the current use.”
Reeve Carol Moffatt says residents expect the township to take action, but until the province introduces changes to its sewage policy and clearly identifies municipalities’ role in that new system, haulers don’t have to adhere to their zoning bylaws.
“With this current jurisdictional gap, we don’t have any say,” Moffatt said. “Someone can come to the township and say ‘I want to put a spreading field here and go through your rezoning process,’ but then they run the risk of having that rezoning denied, so why would you take that risk if you don’t have to? From the perspective of the licensee, it makes perfect sense.”
The MOECC is seeking public input on how to improve the hauled sewage policy and program. Comments can be submitted through the ministry’s Environmental Registry at ebr.gov.on.ca.
In the meantime, Elstone is ready to start work in May, using the existing .85 hectares that’s dedicated to field spreading. He owns 96 acres of the property.
“I’m just a one-man business,” he said. “I’m not against the process, and I’d like to help come up with ways to make the process better.”
Haliburton Septic Pumping is also a member of the Ontario Association of Sewage Industry Services that is actively participating in the discussion to improve the hauled sewage policy and program.
ALEX COOP is a reporter for The Highlander.