Protecting the Public: Septic Development

Septic System Inspections

The staff’s next-three-years work plan, accepted by Council, includes “develop cost effective approach to septic concerns.”

South Frontenac residents have had a longstanding concern about contamination from septic systems. These concerns have been heightened by blue-green algae blooms and recent research identifying our area as one of Ontario’s deteriorating-ground-water-quality hot spots, a fact behind the controversial water fights in Sydenham and Hartington.

The Federation of Ontario Cottagers Associations (FOCA) and the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) recently held a webinar (view the webinar) that examined existing voluntary, discretionary and mandatory Ontario septic inspection programs.

One of the discretionary programs in the Algonquin Highlands found that 57% of the systems were older than 20 years and about 25% of all systems, and 62% of holding tanks, had some sort of code contravention.

Many of the contraventions were relatively minor, like solids occupying more than a third of the tank or no holding tank haulage agreement: problems often easily fixed with routine maintenance. A few were more serious, like no alarms on a holding tank, and rusted metal tanks.

Key conclusions from the webinar were:

• Education is key to a successful inspection program.
• Voluntary programs do not find the septic systems most in need of inspection.
• Residents fear the cost of needed repairs.
• Many older septic systems are not in municipal records.
• Inspection programs only find deficiencies that already exist.
• Many good programs are already operational.

Developers to Hire Own Building Code Inspectors?

The Ontario government has raised the possibility that developers could hire their own building code inspectors, rather use the ones employed by municipalities.

The proposal is consistent with other changes made by the Province to make it easier for developers to proceed as they like and harder for communities to control their development.

Inspections that are independent from developers allow inspectors to step outside the conflict between a company’s mandate to make a profit and the extra cost of protecting the public. Regardless of how good inspectors are, if the company is paying their salary, when it comes to judgment calls, of which there are many in any program, an inspector who wishes to be called back by a company will tend to make those calls in favour of the company rather than in favour of the public.

There is also the matter of liability. What happens if a building code violation is inadvertently passed by the developer’s building inspector?

I can illustrate this circumstance with a personal story. The first two winters we were in our home there was significant heaving in part of the house. Some investigation found that there was no foundation below grade in one corner of the house. We were the second owners of the house. A letter at the time of purchase confirmed that the house had been passed by the Township’s building inspector.

When these facts were established the Township accepted liability and its insurance paid to fix the problem.

When a house is passed by the developer’s inspector and something goes wrong who is responsible? What if the problem does not come to light until years after the building’s completion? What if the company or building inspector has gone out of business? Do we need to set up a new bureaucracy to police the police and insure them?

The current system provides a focus on public interest, clear accountability and long-term responsibility if an error is made. As with all program’s improvements can be made in the inspection process but these should not include allowing developers to inspect themselves.

Upcoming events

Councillor Ruttan and I are holding a Town Hall on Township Issues for the Perth Road area on Saturday, February 8 from 10am to noon in the Harris Hall. Everyone is welcome.

A group of Sydenham residents is organizing a free children’s ice fishing derby on Sunday, February 16, 10-4 off the Point Park in Sydenham. Register here.

South Frontenac’s Family Day Festivities are being held at the Piccadilly Arena on Monday, February 17 from 10 to 2. Everyone is invited to attend for a free day of fun winter activities.

The first organizing meeting for the Fourth Annual Lakes and Trails Festival is on Monday, February 24 at 7pm in the Sydenham Library Community room. Come out and help improve this community Festival, or send along your ideas.


About Ross Sutherland

retired nurse, researcher, public health care activist.
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