Advocacy from residents doesn’t change Dysart’s septic inspection direction

By Sue Tiffin

Dysart is looking for a third party to deliver a septic re-inspection program, accepting bids for the RFP until Nov. 25. But residents, including representatives of lake associations, want council to revisit a decision that includes removing mandatory pump-outs, from the program.

The municipality received more than 25 letters this year about the proposed changes to the septic re-inspection program already in place, with most requesting an inspection that included lids off and a mandatory pump out.

Earlier this year, council decided it would make changes to the format of the municipality’s septic re-inspection program, voting to eliminate the mandatory pump-out, hire a single source third party contractor, and notify owners of inspection dates, as well as draft a septic re-inspection bylaw incorporating those proposed revisions for consideration through the environment committee. Councillor John Smith voted no, being opposed to downgrading to Level 3 inspections.

While it’s a provincial requirement that municipalities have such a program in place, the format of the program is up to each individual local government. Adopted in late 2017 and including what is known as a Level 4 inspection, Dysart’s program had required property owners to perform a pump-out of their septic systems before a lid-off inspection is performed. Its program was the only one in the county to contain that requirement.
Area 1 in the “Level 4” septic re-inspection program included properties on Kennisis Lake and Little Kennisis Lake. That trial ended December 2019.

As a report from chief building officer Karl Korpela indicated at the time, as of the end of 2019, 964 properties in a section of the municipality designated as “Area 1” under the program had been through the process. Korpela’s report read that 112 property owners had failed to have the mandatory pump-out completed or submit a third-party inspection report, another requirement of the program.

“Although this represents only 12 per cent of properties beyond issuing 112 orders to comply dealing with even a quarter of these infractions is not possible with our current staffing,” his report read.

It was Korpela’s recommendation to remove the mandatory pump-out from the process and the plan had been for the municipality to begin conducting Level 3 inspections this year. Level 3 inspections which require a lid-off inspection but not a mandatory pump-out have worked successfully in the Township of Algonquin Highlands and are also being implemented in Minden Hills. Council voted in favour of the recommended revisions with Smith opposed and a revised bylaw for the inspection program was to go to the municipality’s environment and climate change committee for review before coming back to the council table.

A report from Korpela received by council in May recommended holding off with the continuation of the program until 2021 in light of the restrictions that had been put in place by the provincial government amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Development of the new program and preparation of the RFP was put on hold but council wanted to clean up the remainder of the Kennisis Lake properties under the existing program in 2020, Korpela told the Echo.

At the Oct. 27 Dysart council meeting, a delegation by Debra Wratschko, president, Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association and Jim Prince, vice-president, Kennisis Lake Cottage Owners’ Association, titled For the Sake of Our Lakes, Let’s Do it Right the First Time, commended the municipality’s “robust and comprehensive” septic inspection program, with Level 4 inspection, and said they are “concerned that Dysart council is now proposing to change the bylaw to reduce the effectiveness of the inspections without appropriate consultation with experts and stakeholders and without detailed review of the pilot program results.”

The KLCOA, said Wratschko, had advocated along with the Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Associations for about 10 years for this type of program, raising awareness through education and workshop campaigns connecting lake health with septic inspection. She said the lake association had “a few concerns about the new direction of the septic inspection program,” which included that there had not been an analysis and formal report presented for the results of Area 1 inspections (Kennisis Lakes), that an RFP is being prepared based on a proposed new septic re-inspection bylaw that has not been presented even in a draft format at this point, and that Dysart is considering downgrading the current Level 4 inspection to a Level 3 without having been presented with all of the options and without consultation from experts.

Prince said one inspector had provided data to the Dysart environment committee, noting that 43 systems of 284 inspected “would not have been identified as damaged or malfunctioning without the pump-out, potentially leaking raw sewage into our lakes.” Prince said he thought that was an important message for those on council, that had been heard through the pilot program.

“Another thing I think we should all realize is that other than property taxes, this is very likely the largest financial contribution Dysart has ever asked the community to make,” said Prince. He said the Kennisis community invested more than $400,000, which he said was a conservative estimate, into the septic re-inspection program, saying that was a “huge show of support” and benefitted local inspectors, pumpers, and repair workers.

“This amount of community investment certainly warrants a follow-up and that’s what we’re asking for today,” said Prince.

He said KLCOA was asking for a Level 3 and Level 4 inspection option in the RFP, “so that there is flexibility when it comes time to awarding the work.”
The lake association’s delegation said the community’s “economic and environmental future is dependent on our water quality,” which can be controlled “through proper septic system operation and maintenance and the preservation of natural shorelines.”

KLCOA recommended that council “consider having a detailed report prepared for the Area 1 inspection results that can be used to guide any changes in the Dysart septic inspection program,” with analysis on what worked or didn’t work and of inspections that revealed failed or damaged systems that would not have identified without a Level 4 inspection, and “consider retaining the Level 4 inspection in the bylaw until after hearing expert advice, reviewing a thorough Area 1 report, engaging in community consultation and then determine if the RFP, reflecting the current bylaw will address the objective of protecting our water quality.”

Both Prince and Wratschko said they found only after a pump-out that their systems were ineffective.

Later in the meeting, prior to the discussion of the proposed RFP, Mayor Andrea Roberts noted that the public letters received had been included in the council’s agenda package for public document, and that council had passed the resolution regarding program changes earlier in the year prior to the file being put on hold.

In his report to council that day, Korpela reported “During the March 4th, 2020 environment committee meeting, a draft septic re-inspection RFP was presented for review. It was discussed that the RFP would be a logical first step in the process as the re-inspection bylaw would need to encompass the particulars of the successful contractors’ processes and fees.”

“The RFP is going to contain particulars and fees that we want to incorporate into the actual bylaw, so depending on what the winning contract brings, the particulars of their proposal, we want to make sure that they’re incorporated into the bylaw so that we’re not missing anything,” he told council in response to Roberts asking him to remind the public why council was adopting the RFP prior to the bylaw. “That’s why the RFP should come first before the bylaw.”

Councillor John Smith asked if the change the delegation had requested, structuring the RFP with two sets of prices for Level 3 and Level 4, could be made.

“I don’t see a benefit in that right now,” said Korpela. “Everybody’s going to have their own idea of how this should be run, and administered, we’ve chosen a path and this is inconsistent with that path.”

Roberts reminded council that the resolution had been passed regarding eliminating the mandatory pump-out, and that council was discussing the RFP.

“While some people don’t agree, that’s OK but I think we have to move forward with this, we have to put the RFP out,” said Roberts. “That’s what we’re talking about today. Two years from now, somebody else sitting at this chair could make a different decision.”

Smith asked for a recorded vote.

“It remains shocking to me how little regard we have for the people in the community who elected us, encouraged us to make decisions that protect our environment, protect the quality of our lakes, do all the things that were talked about this morning, have been talked about multiple times, and the experts that have shared their knowledge, been kind enough to get engaged, and let us know what they think is the right way to get this job done,” he said. “We’ve been held up as an example of a community that has a great septic re-inspection bylaw and here we are with frankly no demand from the community, we’re downgrading the quality of that work and that’s an absolute shame.”

In a recorded vote, council directed staff to move forward with the RFP as proposed, with Smith voting no.

with files from Chad Ingram