CLARENDON – Controversy erupted after a septic system was installed on a beachfront property in Sand Bay at the beginning of October when the municipality was bombarded with calls about the legality of the work. Pictures showing a mini excavator digging on the beach circulated on social media and a petition protesting the installation has over 1,100 signatures to date. After attending Clarendon’s council meeting, a group of about 30 neighbouring residents also spoke to the MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors, October 16.
“We were completely taken by surprise. This [incident] unleashed a fury of
concern, worry and disbelief,” said Randy Russell, the group’s spokesperson.
A soil absorption system, or a Bionest, was installed to replace a cedar crib in order for the residence to be used full-time. It features two tanks; waste flows from the home into the first tank where solids are separated from liquids through settling. Waste water then overflows into the second tank, the Bionest reactor, where two treatment processes using billions of naturally-produced microorganisms eliminate pollutants harmful to humans and the environment. A pump transports air from the home into the system to aid the decomposition process.
The treated water then runs through a discharge pipe into the ground or a body of water, where permitted. In some cases, it runs into a third holding tank to be recycled for flushing toilets, irrigation, etc. It’s the same process that occurs over time in the ground in a leaching field, but within a controlled environment. According to the system’s website, the effluent quality is well above current government standards.
According to Patricia Hobbs, Clarendon director general, the homeowner received the appropriate approvals and permits and the only portion of the system installed on the beach was a small discharge pipe 2.5 feet below the surface. “There
was very little disturbance,” she said, noting the homeowner is also replacing their retaining wall, which is “perfectly legal.” “There have been a lot of misconceptions,” she added.
According to Hobbs, flooding is not a concern because the system is designed for waterfront properties, meets all government and ministry standards, and is completely sealed.
Mayor John Armstrong (Clarendon) explained the shoreline is under the Ministry of the Environment’s jurisdiction, so the municipality must abide by their regulations
and decisions. “Granting the permit wasn’t a choice, but an obligation. The law is the law,” he said.
Sophie Gauthier, Ministry of the Environment communications director, explained how the approval process works: “The Ministry didn’t issue a permit for this
work and didn’t have to.
The wastewater disposal and treatment systems of isolated residences are subject to the Regulation Respecting the Disposal and Treatment of Wastewater from Isolated Residences. The municipality is responsible for applying
the bylaw, ensuring project compliance, and issuing permits before any work is carried out.”
According to Gauthier, the Ministry received a complaint about the system on October 2, but they didn’t find any deficiencies during their inspection the following day.
Armstrong said the municipal lawyer determined both the municipality and landowner have met all obligations.
Russell said the public should have been consulted before the system was installed, that it threatens the quality of their pristine swimming water, and is precedent setting. The group asked that the decision to allow the system be reversed and a moratorium be placed on all similar installations until the public is consulted. Warden Jane Toller said the MRC doesn’t generally interfere with municipal matters, but that the group’s concerns will be taken into account and discussed.