$1.25 Newsstand Price
Weekly Independent Local News
Friday, May 24, 2024

Septic re-inspection program on the agenda in Douro-Dummer

BY TERRY MCQUITTY

The topic of the day at the Douro-Dummer council meeting on Tuesday was septic re-inspection. The gallery was overflowing in to the hallway with over 70 people in attendance. Council had to remind the gallery on a number of occasions that this was not a public meeting and comments and questions would not be accepted from the gallery.

There were four delegations set to speak on various aspects of the municipal septic re-inspection program, but one of the delegations gave their ten minutes to a colleague.

Chris Maffli was to speak on amendments to By-law 2021-74 Administrative and Enforcement of the Building Code Act, but gave his time to April Hope who presented a 35 page report covering all aspects of the program. Maffli said he would register for another delegation in the future.

The first delegate to speak was Marie Howran. Howran gave a recap of a community Town Hall meeting that was held in Warsaw on May 2, 2024. Howran said the purpose of this meeting was to hold open discussions in the form of “the good old fashioned town hall” where citizens could speak openly without the fear of impact from local government.

The first delegate to speak was Marie Howran. Howran gave a recap of a community Town Hall meeting that was held in Warsaw on May 2, 2024. Howran said the purpose of this meeting was to hold open discussions in the form of “the good old fashioned town hall” where citizens could speak openly without the fear of impact from local government.

Howran commented that she was disappointed that council members did not attend the meeting as it was never intended to be formal, but commented that in hind sight it might have been better that council didn’t attend as people spoke more freely.

Deputy mayor Harold Nelson commented that if council were to attend it would have to be declared an official council meeting. This is provincially legislated.

Some of the concerns voiced at the May 2 meeting included planning decisions, hiring and staffing justification, building and bylaw concerns including septic enforcement, the five year strategic plan and overall lack of transparency when making important government decisions.

Howran said that multiple community members stated they had an apprehension of attending public meetings or signing a petition as they feared reprisal from the building division, planning and other staff.

Howran said that overall attendees were distrustful of the competency of staff to perform septic re-inspections.    She challenged council to be open to the information that they receive. She said “We don’t need bureaucrats to solve our problems, all of us are smarter than one of us”.

Councillor  Adam Vervoort commented that he said it before and will say again that for those who don’t want to address council at a meeting his and other councillors phone numbers and email addresses are available to the public and they are available for conversations. He said he has made the offer before and not a lot of people have taken him up on it.

Howran replied that at the town hall meeting a number of citizens had tried to contact councillor Vervoort to no avail.

The next delegation led by Nadine Ellis-Maffei spoke about and presented to council a petition which looks to eliminate the septic re-inspection program within the municipality.

Ellis-Maffei said she has spoken to council about lack of transparency in the past and she was doing so again at the Tuesday meeting. She pointed to the large crowd and said that this should be a huge indicator of the problems within our municipality and its governing body.

Ellis-Maffei told council that the goal of the petition was to obtain 600 signatures, but as of  Tuesday they obtained 627 signatures on-line and 135 on paper for a total of 762 signatures.

She said they were specifically looking for local citizens and ratepayers so that it carried the weight required.

Mayor Heather Watson commented that her name appeared on the petition and her home was listed as Ottawa. She said that it may be another Heather Watson or somebody was just having fun, but she wanted to be on record that she did not sign the petition.

Ellis-Maffei said like may others she was totally unaware of a septic re-inspection program or that it was mandatory and included fees. She went on to say that she attended a council meeting in March of 2024 where she said that the township and CBO Helleman were reinstating the program after it had already been paused due to community push back. She stated that when it was reinstated there was no public input.

Ellis-Maffei pointed to a township facebook post that announced the reinstatement of the septic re--inspection program and all the negative comments it produced. She said that rather than the township responding to the comments they took down the post. She compared this action with their neighbours Selwyn who she said responded to all comments about the program and eventually decided not to institute a septic-re-inspection program.

April Hope led the final delegation of the evening. Hope apologized for not submitting the 35 page report on septic-re-inspection earlier, but told council that it took her group an enormous amount of time to do the research and compile the information.

Hope said she spoke at the town hall, she heard the public, they did the work and that is why they are presenting at the council meeting.

Hope told council that her background included being a building examiner assistant in Peterborough as well as a building plan examiner for residential permits.

Hope stated that what was being presented did not constitute any legal advice and declared no pecuniary interest and there is no financial or business advantages or profits from this project.  

The report presented goes through the background of septic re-inspection within the municipality of Douro-Dummer.

Hope said that following the March 5 council meeting she emailed Helleman to show her the steps that they are taking to allow enforcement of the program. She said he has not responded as of Tuesday.

Hope said that it is the duty of the clerk to do backgrounds so they can give a full picture to the council so they can make a real decision on the issues. She said that did not take place when it comes to septic re-inspection.Hope says according to the building code act carte blanche inspections are not permitted on private property.

She said the municipality can institute a bylaw that allows inspections and charges fees, but after checking with acting CAO Martina Chait-Hartwig it was relayed that no such bylaw exists.  

Hope said the amount of misery that can be experienced at an inspection can’t be calculated. She said this is not the purpose of a building official. The building division is supposed to be service oriented with enforcement duties as prescribed.

She said in 2011 inspections were to be allowed in water source protection areas. As of May, 2012 there were only 14 properties in Douro-Dummer in water source protection areas.

In September of 2012 a delegation  from the Environmental Council of Clear-Stoney and White Lakes stating that septics are one source of water pollution that can be addressed at the township level.

Hope listed a number of cottage associations she said are associated with the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations (FOCA).

In 2014 FOCA prepared a research study that was meant to arm local municipalities with information to launch a campaign to have septic re-inspection programs implemented.

Hope pointed to Peterborough that allows deceased bodies to be dissolved with chemical processes and put back in to the ecosystem through the water treatment facility.

The township of Douro-Dummer provides permits to dump raw sewage on farmers’ fields.

In 2016 Douro-Dummer hosted an open house. There was a delegation at this meeting that presented a petition with 263 signatures against septic re-inspection. She said that our present MPP Dave Smith also sent an email speaking  against the program.

Hope said that of all the people who attended the public meeting only two were in favour of septic re-inspection.

On February 6, 2018 there was a resolution asking the implementation of the program be delayed until an appropriate process can be developed.

In July 2018 appointed a new CBO Brian Fawcett.

On March 25 2019 reported to council his recommendations to take over the responsibility of sewage enforcement. She said Fawcett argued bringing the re-inspection program in house would give the township more control, more revenue, would allow cost savings and eventually hire more staff.

Hope said this was a complete pivot from the previous resolution.

In 2019 a report was presented to decide on fees for the septic re-inspection which gave no consideration to the resolution that was passed in 2018.

A report titled 2021 permit fee study Fawcett argued for a reserve fund to deal with the ebbs and flows of building to which council agreed. Hope stated that this meant the building department was acting more as a private business and that it would profit without the market fluctuation of the free market economy.

Hope speculated that the revenues from the re-inspection program were needed for the building departments budgetary review as they were falling short of their revenue projections.

Due to COVID the inspector were not lifting lids, people asked for a reprieve and they were refused. The topic was brought up at the next council meeting and it was agreed that the program would move forward, but the inspectors would have to lift the lids.

Hope wrapped up by  telling council that the report includes a list of recommendations that can be found on page 29 and 30 of the report submitted.

Recommendations vary from recinding the re-inspection program entirely to the township doing a complete audit of the building and planning department. (the full report was submitted to council and will become available with the meeting minutes).

Hope also told council that they are forming a watchdog group made up of knowledgable people from the community and will be available to help council to move forward and make some changes.

Councillor Ray Johnston commented that council always tries to do the right thing and its not about the money. He went on to say that they don’t hold people’s opinions against them and conceded “maybe we went up the wrong tree”.

Johnston also apologized that the community group had to convene their own meeting. He said that the meeting is something council should do.

Councillor Tom Watt also commented that nobody should be afraid to appear before council.

Nelson said that he was never in favour of the septic re-inspection, but it has been put in place by the previous council  and now I have a change of mind. He said that the issue has been around since 2012 and even now there is a large crowd against the program at the council meeting he has seen bigger groups attending meetings that wanted septic re-inspections.

Staff was asked to put a picture up from one of the re-inspections performed by the township. The picture depicted a a 45 gallon barrel being used as a septic system. This was an example of why the inspections are perceived as necessary.

Councillor Vervoort moved that the delegation be received and that staff review the materials presented with a summary of the program to date in terms of how many inspections have been completed and a summary of issues that have been identified. Also that a pause on the septic re-inspection program be implemented until the report is tabled at the next council meeting on June 4.

The motion passed.