Enforcement of the Building Code, including the proper installation and operation of an on-site (residential) sewage system, is the legislated responsibility of the Township. Council chose to shirk its oversight responsibilities for system operations by not adopting a Septic System Re-Inspection program. Whether through an inability or an unwillingness, they dropped the ball on this issue.
The Building Code also requires property owners to keep their sewage systems operating properly. That can best be determined by assessing the sludge accumulation in the septic tank. A failing or failed system can pollute ground water (well water) and surface water (lakes and rivers), a situation we all want to avoid. At this time, though, no one really knows the number and types of systems out there and whether they are functioning properly. On October 24, the Township’s appointed Septic Re-Inspection Committee delivered a reasonable two-phase solution called an On-Site Sewage System Assessment Program. Phase 1: Give all property owners 5 years to share with the municipality an "assessment" of their system. This would be a winwin. It demonstrates compliance with the Building Code for both the property owner and the township.
This assessment would be done by a qualified person and could include septic tank pumpers. Phase 2: Only when properties have not reported by the end of Phase 1 would the Township initiate a "mandatory" re-inspection. One advantage of this two-phased program is that those who are strongly motivated can opt to move ahead first. Given the substantial support from waterfront residents, this group may well become early participants in the program. This first phase allows choice and avoids the need to either politically or administratively separate the Township into different compliance areas. Those less motivated can delay their involvement until they are more satisfied that the process is working well. The only provision would be that an assessment is expected to be done by the end of the first 5-year phase. Because of the strong support of many waterfront owners for the program, it can be tempting to consider only their properties under the program. This would be a serious mistake, because that approach does nothing for the hamlets and village, which are our most vulnerable areas.
Septic systems there are often among the oldest, and they are in close proximity to the wells of property owners and their neighbour, a significant health risk. It may seem expedient, then, to limit the program to waterfronts and hamlets only, but that would ignore the susceptibility of outlying areas to the health risk of contamination from faulty systems through fractured bedrock. The committee has consistently seen risk to public health as the primary reason for the municipality to initiate a comprehensive township-wide program. Certainly, specific implementation details would need to be developed, such as finalizing the assessment form; training and licensing of the assessors; record-keeping; follow-up processes; and the auditing of assessor performance, etc. It would also be logical to continue the work of the Affordability Committee to assess and establish appropriate financial support for the program. The Open Houses revealed that some people believe their tanks will not require a pump-out in a 3-to-5-year cycle because of minimal use. This view resulted in the recommendation to have more people trained to provide an assessment-only service, which would be less costly for the owner, yet still meet data collection needs.
Such an option would increase choice and could result in possible part-time job opportunities. Our involvement as a committee has always been about the protection of public health, the sustainability of the environment, and the enhancement of the economy for all who live, work or play here in Central Frontenac.
October 24 was a dark day for this Council, but more importantly for the rest of us. We deserve better from our elected representatives, and this issue needs to be reconsidered! (John DuChene is a retired administrator. Among his posts were that of Manager of the Ottonabee Region Conservation Authority and Clerk/Administrator of Central Frontenac Township. He lives on Kennebec Lake. Terry Kennedy is a retired educator. He is the Chair of the Kennebec Lake Property Owners Association. The views expressed in the above commentary are their own.)