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'Possible ramifications' as Midland bars out-of-town septage

Town-only acceptance of septage in March has north Simcoe municipalities, septic-reliant residents and hauling companies in scramble-mode for impact
Canadian Sanitation Inc. co-owners Brock Peel (left) and Brad Corey are just one of many regional companies impacted by Midland's recent decision to stop accepting septage from outside its boundary as of March 2024.

No puns needed as everyone outside Midland’s boundary will be dealing with the town’s vote to stop accepting septage in a few months.

Announced early in December, Midland will be closing the doors in March to external municipalities using the wastewater treatment facility for processing, with operations localized to Midland residents and businesses alone.

A 60-page report on the Wastewater Treatment Centre septage receiving station was presented to Midland council from Tatham Engineering Limited, providing a conceptual study to look at operational issues and concerns.

Within the report, it was noted that over the period from 2017 through 2022 only 12 per cent (or 269 loads) of the 2,265 septage loads originated in Midland; Tiny Township had contributed 59 per cent (at 1333 loads), with Tay Township (15 per cent or 348 loads), Penetanguishene (10 per cent or 222 loads) and Elmvale (4 per cent or 93 loads) also contributing in that time-frame.

The report was passed without comment at the Midland regular council meeting, as council’s interests of ‘replace, renew, and rehabilitate’ aligned on the 2024 draft budget where a projected $203 million requirement in the 10-year capital plan for new projects and replacements was identified, including the aged WWTC facility last upgraded in 1981.

MidlandToday reached out to Midland staff for comment on the report and its impact to the neighbouring communities and businesses of North Simcoe.

Deputy CAO Andy Campbell, executive director of infrastructure and environment, noted that the decision to approve the report and its recommendations in the regular council session instead of the committee of the whole was addressed when council opted not to ask further question or comment before approval.

“The recommendation will mean that Midland users are no longer subsidizing other residents from other municipalities,” wrote Campbell via email, “as the report shows that the needed investment to upgrade the septage receiving station does not have a viable payback.

"If the wastewater plant only receives septage and hauled waste from within Midland, the volume is such that it can be handled without having to fully upgrade the process equipment, thereby reducing capital and operating expenditures. The savings exceed $1 million dollars.”

Campbell noted in the report that if upgrades requiring raised fees took 20 years to pay back, that the WWTC equipment doesn’t have that 20-year lifespan. 

Water and wastewater manager André Pepin also added that the March 6 decommissioning will allow the reduced cost of WWTC operations to be allocated to other wastewater infrastructure, maintenance and projects.

“There are significant capital upgrades needed at the wastewater plant,” Pepin stated via email. “Currently we are upgrading the headworks and aeration systems at a cost of over $10 million.  Adding another $1.5 million to rebuild the septage receiving to service non-Midland customers is not a priority given other financial pressures. It's also important to emphasize that these decisions are part of a larger strategy aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability and efficiency of the Town’s wastewater treatment systems.”

Pepin noted that the changes were sent to the Ontario Association of Sewage Industry Services (OASIS), with regional municipalities and septic companies having three months to adapt to Midland’s decision.

The announcement was a surprise to many who rely on the facility to take in their waste product.

Brock Peel, co-owner of Midland-based Canadian Sanitation Inc. on CR-93, spoke with MidlandToday as a voice of concern for several companies involved with handling septage, including Pepi Sewage Disposal, Regional Sanitation, Georgian Bay Sanitation, AAAA Sanitation and Northern Sanitation.

“We were given only 26 hours of notice prior to the council meeting (for us to discuss this),” stated Peel. “The only choice we have at this point is to make sure the public, the township officials from the surrounding municipalities, as well as the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks are completely aware of this decision and the possible ramifications that this is going to have.”

Peel didn’t see it as a “wise decision, but we also don’t feel that the town of Midland should be put in the hot seat over this,” citing the town’s 12 per cent overall usage of the facility. “We believe that these neighbouring municipalities should be the ones that are stepping up to assist in covering the costs that are required to expand the facility,” he noted.

He pointed out that rural and non-serviced areas reliant on septic systems being pumped were likely to be paying a municipally-mandated septic or inspection program fee; and with new buildings or expansions requiring permit applications, a halt on development could happen without a sustainable septage management solution.

Additionally, Peel said “no land application can be practised throughout any time during the winter and early spring months; the majority of residents don't stop using their septic systems during these months. As well, all high strength, portable toilet and marine waste cannot be disposed of anywhere outside of the treatment facility, all months of the year.”

The matter was addressed at other North Simcoe council meetings following Midland’s decision.

At the committee of the whole meeting for Tiny Township, public works director Tim Leitch noted that roughly 1.4 million properties in Ontario utilized septic systems or holding tanks.

Mayor Dave Evans sympathized with regional businesses who could increase rates as costs for transporting septage increased through fuel and maintenance expenditures.

“Right now, we don’t have any sewers anyways,” stated Evans. “This is something that’s staring at us in the face that we have to deal with, because when we talk about water we have… 16 independent water systems, but with septage we have nothing.”

He called the matter “a perfect county item with the amount of capital involved” to provide background for the province to infuse infrastructure capital into communities.

Deputy Mayor Sean Miskimins quipped that the issue of septage “rolls down” to the municipality, and offered that a septage committee be reestablished in the township, with Tiny council endorsing a future staff report on the impact.

In Penetanguishene, a loosely-related report addressing recreational vehicle blackwater receiving station options allowed the conversation of the WWTC to be raised at their committee of the whole meeting, with similar concerns shared as with Tiny and the regional businesses. 

The Wastewater Treatment Centre septage receiving station report, including the Tatham Engineering study report, is available in the council agenda on the town of Midland website.

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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