Septage Backgrounder: The Real Story of Why

Mississippi Mills needs a modern sewage treatment plant in order to service existing Almonte homes and support aggressive subdivision expansion in Almonte. Unfortunately, Council added a facility to treat pumped-out septage and expects rural residents to pay for part it. There is no legal requirement to treat septage and a weak environmental argument for it. So, why is this happening? It's about money and growth.

Septage Plan Driven by Growth

As everyone know, Almonte has more new suburbs than there are warts on a toad. The Town's long range plan is for 2000 new homes and 5800 new residents in 20 years. Such growth is impossible using Almonte's old lagoons for sewage treatment: hence the need for the new waste water treatment plant (WWTP). It is expected to be ready late in 2012. The winning bid for construction is $24,720,000. The Town's share of the cost will be one third of that--plus interest on the loans to finance it, plus any cost overruns.

Septage Plan Driven by Money

The plan to add a septage component to the new WWTP was driven by two monetary goals:

1. The Town needed to cover two-thirds of the plant's costs with federal and provincial grants. To sweeten the deal, the Town promised to add septage treatment to the new plant in its November 2008 application to the Canada Building Fund.

2. By adding septage treatment to the new sewage treatment plant, the Town could pass some of the plant's capital costs to rural residents and take some pressure off Almonte's already high water bills.

Note: Supporters of the septage component disagree with my points above. Below is my reasoning.

A Hidden Promise

Regarding point 1: Page 6 of the Town's application to the Canada Building Fund includes this paragraph: "The proposed Treatment Plant will include septage receiving facilities, which will provide the community with an environmentally friendly and cost-effective approach to septage management..."

This promise from the Town made septage treatment a condition of receiving funding. It eliminated all other septage treatment options. This is an example of a flawed public process that needs fixing.

Now the Town plans to impose a one-time $120 levy on rural residents for the septage treatment capital costs. The Town also plans to charge rural residents a user fee when their septage is dumped in the plant and the Town may pile on annual operating costs if user fees don't bring in enough money.

People in Almonte Ward will not be forced to pay a one-time tax; instead, they will pay just a user fee. That's not fair. Wards should be treated equally.

Better Options Ignored

Regarding point 2: Renfrew County published a comprehensive study of septage treatment options in 2005. It stated that treatment of septage in a sewage treatment plant—our Council's choice—was the most expensive option by far. The report detailed several cheaper and provincially-accepted options.

If Council had chosen another septage treatment option, it would require a facility separate from the sewage treatment plant—meaning no part of the sewage plant's cost could be passed to rural residents. That wouldn't do!

My Position: Rural people don't want a one-time tax imposed for the septage treatment facility. And I agree. A user fee is acceptable--only pay for it if your septage pumping company uses it.