Just Say No.
Last week, the Committee of Adjustment, which is comprised of Huntsville councillors, was asked to allow a property owner with frontage on Fairy Lake to locate a septic tank much closer to the lake than the Town’s regulations allow. In reality, they were actually asking more for forgiveness than permission because the septic tank had already been “roughed in”.
In another instance, it was reported that the Ministry of the Environment had noted a ‘blue-green algae bloom’ in Pen Lake. These two matters are only related in that both threaten the quality of our lakes.
In relation to the algae bloom, I am not aware of what caused it or how to fix it. Clearly, it is a pollutant that is capable of producing toxins in the water making it unsafe for consumption or swimming. That should be a real worry.
I do know, however, how to prevent sewage from leaching into the lakes that are so important to Huntsville’s economy and that is to just say, “NO”, loudly and clearly, to those who seek to circumvent the environmental restrictions applied through the Town’s planning process.
The Committee of Adjustment last week dithered. They deferred a decision rather than making one, possibly because the applicant had already begun construction of the septic system. It was clear from the discussion that some councillors were uncomfortable allowing a septic system 16.8 metres from Fairy Lake when the required setback is 30 metres. However, instead of denying the application out of hand, the applicant has been given an opportunity to come back with further arguments or proposals. These too should be rejected if they do not strictly conform with the Town’s bylaws. When it come to the potential pollution of our environment, including our lakes, there should be zero tolerance.
One might well ask, why this is important? It is important because Huntsville thrives as a result of the unique lifestyle we enjoy in a world-renowned recreational area. To preserve it and protect it should be the highest priority of any public official.
Right now, Huntsville is on a bit of a roll. Many retailers in the area have reported a bumper season. There are signs of new growth and expansion in our downtown core. Huntsville Place Mall, Muskoka’s only indoor mall, has announced a major renovation and expansion. We will soon see at least two new brewing establishments. As well, there are several residential projects in the works; condominiums downtown and at Grandview and a potential new subdivision off Chaffey Township Road, to name just a few. In addition, Fairvern Nursing Home is heading toward a major expansion. Most importantly, as we grow and thrive it will become more and more difficult to deny Huntsville the acute care hospital services that are so important to North Muskoka.
All of this is good news. Much of this is happening however, because Huntsville has maintained its uniqueness as a place where lifestyle matters and tourists want to visit. This all boils down to our natural habitat and the importance of preserving it.
There is no doubt that planning and bylaw restrictions can sometimes be a pain in the butt. There is more than one developer who will tell you that, in words of one syllable! But the rules are there for a reason: to protect the environmental and economic integrity of our community. That should trump most things and exceptions should be extremely rare.
In the great scheme of things, one septic tank that is too close to the lake is not the end of the world. Nor, I suppose, is one building that is allowed above the tree line, or, for that matter, is exempting developers from providing parking spaces when they would otherwise be required. But it is a slippery slope, isn’t it? Once you start, where do you stop?
I fully understand Council, or in this case, the Committee of Adjustment, wanting to help people who appear before them. In that context, it is sometimes easy to find justification to make an exception. Indeed, at least one Councillor did just that. Their larger responsibility, however, is to our environment and in this instance, to protect the quality of our lakes, even if that has to be accomplished one septic system at a time.
Council and their related committees may have no ability to control the algae bloom in Pen Lake. But when it comes to septic systems and their potential, however small, of leaching sewage into our lakes, they have the hammer and they should use it. Just say no.
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