Arlene Quinn, septic inspector, reported to council that of 275 properties deemed high-risk through the municipality s septic maintenance inspection program from 2017 to 2019, only 88 have been resolved, leaving 187 outstanding.

Set timelines needed for septic fixes, Highlands East deputy mayor says

By Sue Tiffin

The following are brief reports of items discussed during an Aug. 11 special and regular meeting of Highlands East council. 

Arlene Quinn, septic inspector, reported to council that of 275 properties deemed high-risk through the municipality’s septic maintenance inspection program from 2017 to 2019, only 88 have been resolved, leaving 187 outstanding.

Typically, Quinn said the steps taken to resolve issues with septic systems involve a letter being sent to property owners, then a follow-up letter if necessary, and a last letter sent with a timeline to contact the building department to prevent further action, and finally an order to comply posted to the property with a copy sent to the property owner.

She noted that properties which were gated or that refused access were indicated in the high risk category because they were unable to be assessed, and that some marked outstanding were moving toward compliance.  

Quinn said there were numerous other reasons why some sites were deemed high-risk, including that some property owners have financial challenges in addressing septic system problems, for which she has tried to help find financial assistance programs, or that some have not been able to procure the services of a qualified installer, in part due to a busy industry as Dysart et al and Alqonguin Highlands townships complete their own septic maintenance inspection programs. The pandemic has prevented some property owners from being able to access their sites this year. 

“We are running into many who simply refuse to acknowledge our correspondence,” reported Quinn. “Generally, these are seasonal property owners that have made changes to their properties without the required building permits (such as bunkies). Changes such as these can undersize their septic according to OBC sizing calculations, which then makes the property considered ‘high risk.’ The problem is twofold: a building/bylaw issue and a septic one.”

Quinn said her experience in those cases was that owners chose not to acknowledge septic letters, as they didn’t want to have to revert bunkies back to sheds, or remove added bedrooms.

“These are the properties that we have the hardest time getting into compliance and court orders may be necessary,” she said. 

The septic maintenance program is complex, with many variables to be considered, she reported.
“Each property of concern is unique and each person’s situation is different therefore making resolution, compliance and statistical information rather challenging,” she told council. “Our approach has been to address highest priorities first, regardless of what year inspection transpired.”

Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall, who has asked for reports on outstanding septic challenges at prior meetings, said “this has been a subject of major concern and discussion for quite awhile.”

He applauded the work being done by the municipality staff to work with septic owners.  

“It is definitely something that shows that our municipality is not just out there trying to enforce a bylaw,” he said. “We’re trying to be compassionate. We’re trying to do the job as best as we can. But at the end of the day we have to protect what needs to be protected.”

He noted it was impor tant to work with those who were struggling to deal with the financial cost of correcting problems, but that he was concerned with people who might not be working with the municipality. He said lake associations that he has spoken to have the same concerns.

“And if we’re going to take litigation, let’s do it,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, if we’re going to be crying wolf, then nothing is going to happen, then that’s it. I understand that there’s cost associated with anything we do. There’s also cost associated with nothing if we choose to do so.”

Ryall requested more details on how many property owners were working – or not – with the municipality, and what individual timelines or conditions in resolving those challenges might look like.  
“We need to get this thing done, especially if we’re going back into 2017 and 2018,” he said. “We need to come up with some timelines for closing off these various phases, otherwise this is going to drag on beyond my lifetime.”

Council accepted Quinn’s report as information.

Online council meetings continuing

During a special meeting of council held before the regular council meeting last week, a resolution was passed to amend municipal procedural bylaws to allow for members of council and committees participating in electronic meetings to be counted for purposes of quorum outside of a state of emergency. 

Robyn Rogers, clerk, reported to council, noting that “prior to COVID-19 and Bill 187, the Municipal Act included provisions for electronic participation (Bill 68) and at that time Highlands East council did amend council procedural by-law which permitted electronic participation to take place, however, members who participated electronically were not counted towards quorum and participation was not permitted for in-camera meetings.”

In March of this year, the Municipal Act was amended through Bill 187 to allow councils and local boards to meet electronically during states of emergency declared by the province or municipality, under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. 

“Highlands East has been utilizing the Zoom platform with livestreaming to the public to ensure that the municipality is following the open meeting requirements under the Municipal Act, and that the public has had the opportunity to speak  to council when required,” reported Rogers. “Overall, electronic meetings have been successful.”

Bill 197, receiving royal assent on July 21, allows electronic meetings to continue outside of a declaration of an emergency, if they choose. 

“Ùntil such time that the social gathering and social distancing measures are lifted, the use of these provisions will provide the necessary flexibility so that the municipality can continue to conduct business, while ensuring that the public has access to participate while carrying out safety precautions,” said Rogers’s report. “The provisions will also provide flexibility for members should medical or health concerns, municipal or personal business or during emergencies prohibits them from attending a meeting in person.”

Rogers said the associated cost to co-ordinate and broadcast the meetings online was about $73 a month, and that continued research would be required to determine what equipment or additional costs might need to be put in place for the meetings to continue to be live-streamed even once the public could safely return to view meetings.