Interior Health Septic Review

Not everyone is aware of the septic rules, and how they are changing. Some people who have unnescessarily sold property because they thought they couldn’t put a septic on it, when in fact they could, feel they have been wronged. Other situations exist where things have gone awry. The government administration’s lack of communication, clarity, and coherent operations, is causing hardship for some people.

When it comes to government regulations, history will show us that foresight is often lacking. However, if you read the following story, I think you will agree that in this case, hindsight is lacking as well. The regulations in question appear to be neither properly researched nor carefully considered. What can we do about it? Bob Sterne has been working on this for awhile and gotten nowhere – until now.

It would appear that the Medical Health Officer for Interior Health, Dr Hasselback, has risen to the occasion. The following two e-mails tell the whole story – so far.

From: Hasselback, Dr. Paul
To: ‘Diane & Bob Sterne’
Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 10:47 AM
Subject: RE: Cottages of Coalmont #3

Thank you for your letter and expression of concern. I have requested from the appropriate personnel a review of this situation and the preparation of a formal reply to your inquiry. P Hasselback MD MSc FRCPC Medical Health Officer – South Okanagan Interior Health c/0 740 Carmi Av, Penticton V2A 8P9

The Medical Health Officer has apparently understood that there is a problem in Coalmont, and taken the honorable step of addressing the situation. Below is Bob’s letter which finally elicited Dr. Hasselback’s response.

From: Diane & Bob Sterne
Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 9:37 AM
To: Hasselback, Dr. Paul
Cc: Brad (RDOS-H) Hope
Subject: Fw: Cottages of Coalmont #3

Dear Dr. Hasselback:

For the past four months, we have been trying to get a response from Interior Health about our concerns regarding the “Cottages of Coalmont” development taking place in Coalmont, BC. We originally addressed our concerns back in September, 2008 to Gerri Logan who was the RDOS representative for Area H at that time. It worked through the RDOS until it reached the desk of Mr. Bill Newell, who passed the responsibililty for this dilemna over to Interior Health (letter attached).

Upon receipt of that letter, we immediately contacted Interior Health and spoke on October 23 to Mr. John Beaupre who was most symathetic to our problem and our correspondence with him is shown below. Although we have tried several times since to get a response from Mr. Beaupre, he has ignored, and continues to ignore us. (EDIT: he called to apologize a few hours after this email was sent!) We would hope that you agree this lack of communication is intolerable.

Mr. Brad Hope, our newly elected RDOS Area H representative, has now taken up our plight, and you should be aware that the citizens of Coalmont have had two recent meetings regarding this problem. We understand that you are now aware of the problems, which I will summarize below:

Coalmont consists mostly of very small lots (many are 25 x 100 feet) originally surveyed and registered in 1911. At that time, outhouses were the accepted method of sewage disposal. Although a map of Coalmont appears to show high density, the vast majority of lots were never built on.

Up until the current “Sewerage Practices Manual” of 2007, all septic systems installed in Coalmont (within recent memory) were required to be 100 feet from any well, and vice versa, and the Department of Health was directly involved in the permitting process. This meant that before building permits were approved, lots had to be amalgamated to provide such separation. When the rules regarding septic systems changed, this 100 foot separation requirement became a “recommendation” that could be waived by a “qualified professional”. There is no guarantee that said professional will not die, go out of business, move away, or declare bankruptcy.

Basically, the Government has abdicated the responsibility for public health to those who cannot be held accountable. They changed the rules in 2007 and the current regulations (regarding both health and building permits) do NOT address the problems associated with small, pre-existing lots, as found in Coalmont and nearby Tulameen.

Regarding the specifics of the “Cottages of Coalmont” project, the Developer has made it clear that the intention is to build up to 24 cottages on the (25 x 100 foot) lots that he owns, with each having its own well and “Type 3” Septic system. The Sewerage Practices Manual states in Section 1.2.10 that Type 3 systems are not recommended for Seasonal Dwellings, which is how they are being marketed. Section 42 of the Sanitary Regulations states “Every well shall be located at least 100 feet from any probable source of contamination” and as expressed on page 36 of the Sewerage Practices Manual, the Supreme Court has ruled that a septic field is a “probable source of contamination”.

The citizens of Coalmont wish to express their concern about the “Cottages of Coalmont” development in its proposed form. We feel that the chance for contamination of our fresh water supply from the proposed high density is very high, and that any resulting problems will simply result in more “finger-pointing” as the various branches of Government abdicate their responsibility and try and place the blame on each other, the “qualified professionals”, and the home-owner.

There is the distinct possibility, under Sec. 42 (above) that should an existing home-owner have to replace a well (as for example by drilling deeper) that they could be denied that option because the location is within 100 feet of one of the new septic systems. This could literally force them from their home or business, and leave them with worthless land.

It seems obvious that the problems of small pre-existing lots was not considered when the new “recommended” Sewarage Practices Manual became law in 2007. The only other conclusion would be that it was considered, and ignored, which would be extreme negligence, and therefore we think unlikely.

The fact remains, that since the rules changed, this problem has now come to the fore, and MUST be addressed by Interior Health. It is not too late…. only one building permit has been issued so far, and the location of that cottage is not a problem. If the development is allowed to proceed unchecked, however, we can foresee the possibility of extreme hardship being inflicted on the residents of Coalmont. Most of the residents here are low income, and would not be able to afford a community sewage disposal system. We enjoy our mountain fresh well water, and do not want to lose that either. If this development is allowed to proceed, the citizens of Coalmont want guarantees from the Government that should there be a future problem with contamination of our drinking water, that the Government will install a community sewage system completely at their expense, and at no cost to us.

Our next Town Meeting will be on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 7:00 pm in the Coalmont Hotel. This matter has dragged on long enough, and we look forward to its resolution by that time. We hope that you will work closely with the RDOS, and our representative Brad Hope, towards that goal.

Sincerely, Bob Sterne for the Concerned Citizens of Coalmont