Minutes of Town Meeting April 21, 2009

Guests in Attendance:
Dr. Paul Hasselback (Interior Health Officer)
Gundy Volk (Interior Health Authority)
Chris Garrish (RDOS Chief Planner)
Andrew Reeder (RDOS Engineer)
Rupert Benson (Ministry of Healthy Living & Sport Land Use Manager)
Tim Roark (SSRIC Representative)
Brad Hope (Area H Representative)
Harry Lali (MLA)

The meeting was Chaired by Ole Juul and approximately 43 people were in attendance.
Introduction of guests and short history of how this meeting came to be.

Tim Roark explained the problems with the new regulations. Sewage disposal is in the hands of the industry now. Permits are not needed (only filing on record). Contractors do the designing and approve themselves. There is no legal distance between wells and septics. Mr. Roark has seen them as close as 17 feet apart. Mr. Roark stressed there are very reputable installers but unfortunately, there are also some who aren’t reputable. There is now a conflict between public health and money for contractors. The contractors do not have any training in public health. The new, more complicated systems potentially have more problems. Package sewage treatment systems require regular maintenance. No maintenance could lead to failure of the systems. New systems now cost about $25,000 as opposed to $5,000 for the more traditional systems and the potential for failure is greater with the new systems. Mr. Roark said his coalition had prepared a 75 page report on their concerns and sent the report to the government. The coalition includes contractors, physicians, lawyers, engineers and shell fishermen. The new regulations mean that the people who regulate the contractors can’t do anything because they have no legal authority to go on private property. The government has told the coalition that they will try to come up with a resolution to the problem because they realize it leaves small lot communities particularly vulnerable. Mr. Roark said the government hopes to have a plan in place this fall. He suggested we need to help the government figure out how to fix the problem and encourage the government on how to deal with the problem in small lot communities. We need to let the government know we are concerned. In 2005 the changes were not widely publicized and while many contractors knew of them, most individuals didn’t. Mr. Roark said he has seen systems that are only one year old are failing so we need to have fail safe mechanisms in place to protect us. If many systems fail, towns may be forced to pay for community water or sewer systems. Contractors are not insured and local communities have no recourse if there is a problem.

Dr. Hasselback cautioned that Mr. Roark’s message was slanted on a provincial basis. He agrees there were real concerns and real issues in Coalmont but there are no solutions in place. Dr. Hasselback stated he is caught in a gap due to the lot sizes from 1911. He stated there has been a lot of debate about the liability and diligence to the installer of the systems and it will be a challenge to solve the problem. Dr. Hasselback has limitations as he is bound by the laws. He can argue the laws, but must follow them. He stated the legislation is there when there is a problem but can’t do anything about “concerns”. Dr. Hasselback stated we can’t come to a solution without all the parties present. He wondered why the developer in question hadn’t been invited. He wants to keep the focus on Coalmont. The rules state wells can NOT be closer than 100’ to septic systems but septics CAN be 100’ from wells. Dr. Hasselback stated we needed to see how the aquifer flows through town and stated the community must come together to understand it. Shallow wells are most vulnerable. The community needs to have long term visions about their wants. He stated this was a long term planning opportunity. Do we want collective water? Collective sewage? We must plan as a community to have infrastructure to thrive and survive as a community. Before any action can be taken, Dr. Hasselback stated a hydrogeological study of the aquastructure was needed for Coalmont. He asked who had tested their water within the last year and many hands went up. Dr. Hasselback said everyone is recommended to test their water on an annual basis. Gundy Volk stated that we have to pay to have the water tested. She was asked why the government doesn’t pay for the testing? Dr. Hasselback stated he didn’t want to address who pays for the testing and he doesn’t write the regulations. He stated we can’t sit and argue about this if we don’t pay to test our own water. The cost of water testing is approximately $120.00 for a major test and $35 for a biological test per well.

Ole Juul stated we want to avoid health problems and other problems that could occur with development. Ole asked Chris Garrish to comment on development.

Chris Garrish stated the Overall Community Plan for Area H in Coalmont had significant existing capacity for growth in the town. The lots of 100 years ago are legal titles and there isn’t much that can be done about it. New developments require 1 hectare lots. Ole asked how big is a 1 hectare lot? Christ didn’t know but a local said it was about 90,000 sq. ft.

Andrew Reeder stated the challenge is that the lots were here before RDOS. The new policy is for new lots that are created and not existing lots. With regard to existing lots, the BC building code is all that can be used. When RDOS gets septic approval from the Interior Health, they must approve the building permit. The chance for RDOS to review potential problems is when zoning is changed or a subdivision of land occurs.

Rupert Benson has been with the provincial government for one year. The intent of the rules was to give the industry more freedom and give a break to the health authority. He stated he wants feedback from the community and he will present the Minister and Cabinet with the problems and try to “tweek” the ideas. He stated the key ideas are: need for oversight, high cost of new systems, more enforcement, more hands on at the filing stage to protect the public health. The public is encouraged to voice their concerns about issues. Mr. Benson wants to get as much information as possible but no perfect fix is available. He stated installers should follow the big manual they have (and he held up the book to show everyone). Mr. Benson stated they would do their best to get a solution.

Ole stated our concern was not so much a health problem now but what could happen. The problems could cost us a great amount of money. Our concern is regarding development and the government doesn’t care about that. Ole asked what is in place now to prevent future development? How can we lobby against development?

Chris Garrish stated they are reviewing the OCP and can’t do anything for existing lots but can put limits on future developments if the community wants that.
Andrew Reeder said their only tools are zoning, subdivision and building permits. He stated package plants can and do work but there is a problem in the provincial legislation because checks aren’t in place. The regulations say there isn’t supposed to be a problem but the province must do quality assurance checks and those checks aren’t occurring now.

Ole asked if talks were going on.

Rupert Benson stated yes – new one hectare lot sizes will be enforced.

Ole – But what about our small lots that exist? Are you addressing these small lots?

Rupert Benson – We are doing the best we can. Even under the old regulations systems failed but we must figure it out and be creative.
Someone from the audience stated 25’ lots were fine in the past because you needed many lots to put in a septic and well. Legislation changed and this is our problem. Legislation has allowed this problem and legislation must reverse itself.

Harry Lali stated the government is here as a buffer to act on behalf of all people and make regulations to protect people. The government’s job is to implement regulations made by cabinet, so we mustn’t blame the officials for doing their jobs. The environment assessment act was there to protect the environment but now it has been watered down to give companies easier access to land. Developers can self regulate and now there isn’t much left to protect individuals. When people get fed up with things, they move and there are less people left to complain. The fox is in charge of the hen house and now legislation must be changed. We are expected to test our own wells, pay for water or sewage systems and we can’t do anything unless legislation changes.

Tim Roark had three suggestions: 1. Legislation is in control and binds us, therefore, we must do what we can locally to convince the government to change. 2. Package plants must be maintained. Ask the government to pass a bylaw that requires maintenance is done. Bacteria and nitrates are problems, so local government should enforce the reduction of these. 3. Drinking water protection act. See if our community can get a drinking water protection plan because we are unique.

Brad Hope said this is a legislative problem and he is frustrated by it. He wants to know how Interior Health and RDOS can work together to get the legislation changed.
Someone from the audience said Section 42 of the Sanitation Regulations state a well must be 100’ from a septic so why can’t that be enforced?

Tim Roark said if a well goes in first and there is no septic it is legal. As long as the septic goes in second, it can be close to the well and is legal. The courts stated they won’t enforce Section 42. Mr. Roark agreed that that could leave a homeowner with property that has no value if a developer puts a septic too close to their existing well.

Dr. Hasselback said this could be the problem but they must follow the sewer regulations. He has influence and knows there is a problem but he can’t do anything until there is a problem even if that leaves a homeowner with worthless land.

It was asked who polices the wells? Gundy Volk said Interior Health does but we are their eyes and must tell them if something is happening. She also stated if all the wells go in on a property first, the developer can put in all the septics after and Interior Health can’t do anything about it.

Ole asked what RDOS knew about the Cottages of Coalmont. Have more building permits been issued?

Chris Garrish said that Phase 2 will need rezoning and the community will have input. He doesn’t know if any other building permits have been issued.

Dr. Hasselback said if a well is in and a septic is put in less than 100’, they will check on it when they file for a septic system and may ask additional questions (ie. hydrogeology). He said we have put up a red flag several months ago and they know it.
It was asked where do we go from here?

Rupert Benson said he will relay our information and presentation is important. Feedback is needed. It is time to get solutions on the table to find out our options.

Ole asked for a show of hands who wants the 100’ rule back. Almost all hands were raised in the room. Ole thanked the guests and said they now are aware of our problems. Ole was happy to know we do have input in the OCP which is useful. The meeting ended.

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