Do we have a sewage problem?
Sewage……it’s something we don’t like to think about. You just push a handle or a button and away it goes never to bother you again. Until of course there is a leak or a backup and then all hell breaks loose. If you have ever experienced raw sewage in your basement or anywhere else for that matter, you know what I am talking about.
Late last month in Huntsville, there was a fairly serious sewage leak which pumped the bad stuff to several homes and businesses on or near Highway 60 and very close to Fairy Lake. It was a big deal to them; thousands of dollars in damages, hours of dealing with the yucky stuff and putting up with serious odour, not to mention the prospect of disease. Some places were uninhabitable. At least one business was completely wiped out and may not be able to reopen for three or four months.
It wasn’t particularly helpful in my view, when a District official opined that, “Domestic sewage is not hazardous but there is a risk of disease and bacterial infection if good hygiene practice is not followed.” That sounds to me like someone saying to these poor souls, don’t blame us, it’s your fault if you don’t wash your hands and face. A touch arrogant methinks.
District Government is King when it comes to sewer and water in Muskoka. They own it. They control it and we pay for it. It is reasonable therefore to expect the District to know what caused the sewage backup in Huntsville. Yet almost three weeks later there is no real explanation. Is there a problem with the pumping station? Did it have anything to do with the road construction on Highway 60? Are we sure the problem is localized and not indicative of a systemic problem with the entire system? We don’t know because the District won’t tell us. By now they should have had some answers but all they will say is, “Investigation into the cause of sewage backup is ongoing.”
One would also think that given the serous nature of a sewer blockage, the District would have advised the Town of Huntsville about the problem and kept them up to date on its cause. But Town officials confirm that there has been no communication with Bracebridge officials about any of this. Why is that important? Because people affected by sewage issues or any other similar problem will not look to a faceless explanation from Bracebridge, but rather to their Mayor and locally elected officials who deserve to be fully briefed and kept in the picture. That is communications 101.
Of course, another serious concern in relation to the sewage backup is Fairy Lake. There are indications that untreated sewage flowed there. We do not know how much and we do not know what harm has been done. What we do know is that the quality of our lakes in Huntsville is directly related to our economy. We deserve answers here and we need to know what steps are being taken to avoid future occurrences. Hopefully, our Council and the various Lake Associations in the area will demand that we get some.
To add insult to injury to the people and businesses affected by the Highway 60 sewage backup, the District assumes no responsibility for the damage caused by their system. It’s a too-bad, so-sad policy. They are simply off the hook. Home owners and business operators are responsible for their own insurance deductibles and business interruption losses. Apparently, it says so in the contract. Insurance companies and individuals cannot sue the District to recover their losses. One would think liability insurance from the District should cover that without onerous cost to taxpayers.
In the great scheme of things, the sewage backup on Highway 60 may not be seen as that big a deal except, of course, to the people who were directly affected. And in fairness, it must be said that the District staff on the ground acted quickly and effectively to resolve the immediate problem. But what happens if we have a larger issue and what lessons have been learned from the incident that did happen? What protocol should be place to ensure more effective communications with the local municipality affected? How will we find out if our sewer system is up to date and adequate to meet the needs of a growing municipality? Of equal importance is to determine what further measures are required to protect our waterways.
One can only hope that our District Government will step up to the plate and deal with some of these issues. With local elections on the horizon, perhaps that will be the time to make sure that they do.
(Update: The District released a statement regarding the system failure on November 21. Read it here.)
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