By Chad Ingram
Published March 21, 2019
A number of residents filled Minden Hills council chambers last week for a public meeting regarding an application for official plan and zoning bylaw amendments to allow the operation of a sewage spreading field off of Bobcaygeon Road north of the village of Minden.
Understandably, most of them voiced their opposition to that proposal.
It is not the first time in recent years that the issue of spreading fields has made the pages of this publication. Regular readers will recall the situation with a spreading field located near Maple Lake in Algonquin Highlands.
It should be made clear that this column is not a criticism of a longstanding and respected local company that is simply trying to fulfill a need in the community. Most of the dwellings in Haliburton County are on septic tanks and, well, that waste has to go somewhere. And, as attendees of last week’s meeting heard, the county’s topography makes it difficult to find a suitable property, with adequate amounts of permeable soil, sufficient setbacks from water bodies, etc.
It would seem, however, that the provincial regulations regarding permitting for spreading fields could use some review.
Environmental compliance approvals (ECAs) for such operations are issued by the provincial government through the Ministry of Environment, Parks and Conservation. An ECA for the Bobcaygeon Road operation was actually issued by the ministry last summer. This despite the fact that sewage spreading is not a permitted use on the property under its current zoning, hence the application for official plan and zoning amendments. Municipalities are wholly creatures of the province, and bear no constitutional authority of their own. As we have learned from the situation at Maple Lake, an ECA from the MOE essentially trumps municipal zoning bylaws.
There is no requirement for the province to heed municipal zoning bylaws when issuing ECAs; the only requirements that must be met are the ministry’s own. This is problematic for everyone – municipal councils, residents and field operators. The permitting process should be amended to require compliance with municipal zoning bylaws.
Also, it is surprising how close to water bodies and residences these facilities are permitted. Presumably, ministry requirements are based on science that ensures water sources are not contaminated and so on. However, allowing such operations within a kilometre of residential properties seems to defy logic.
This is ultimately a provincial issue, so requires a provincial solution. It seems pretty clear that the process around the permitting of sewage spreading fields needs some reconsideration.