Septage Facility: Birth of a White Elephant

Mississippi Mills intends to build a septage treatment facility. But will anyone use it? Provincial indifference and a flawed business plan may make the facility an expensive tribute to good intentions.

Build It and They Will Come, Maybe

Once the facility is operating in 2012, there is no guarantee that anyone will use it because there is no legal requirement to treat septage yet. Individual septage haulers (the people who pump your septic tank) will decide to use it or not. Since the Town will charge a tipping fee, this will boost the cost of an already-expensive service. Users can shop around to avoid the fee.

Since 2002, the Town has lobbied the provincial government to outlaw the spreading of raw septage on fields, at least in our area. Every meeting with government officials has ended in polite words but no action.

On August 10, 2010, Mayor Al Lunney, Councillor Brenda Hurrle, and CAO Diane Smithson met with John Gerretsen, Minister of Environment. Mayor Lunney called it a very positive meeting where Gerretsen showed real interest and promised to move the issue to the top of his pile. Eight days later, Gerretsen was shuffled to a different ministry.

On August 31, Mayor Lunney told Council that the MOE staff still supports Mississippi Mills and the Mayor says there is a 99% chance the province will ban the spreading of raw septage here by 2013. Of course, by then we will have had a provincial election. Nothing is 99% certain.

Based on past reluctance by MOE to ban the spreading of raw septage, it is impossible to predict if and when such a ban will exist. Even if the province bans raw septage spreading in Mississippi Mills, what happens if someone contracts a hauler outside of the Town? Where does the septage go then?

Operating Costs

Tipping fees are suppose to cover operating costs. The septage business plan prepared for the Town estimates the annual operating cost for the septage facility will grow from $64,700 in 2013 to $122,800 by 2031. If tipping fee revenue falls short, rural residents will be dinged for the difference.

Be Careful What You Wish For

Several Mississippi Mills councillors have almost swooned at the business opportunity they say the septage facility represents. They expect haulers from far and wide—not just in Mississippi Mills—to use the facility, and thus generate revenue.

The septage business plan predicted how much money the Town can make from tipping fees but never addressed the long-term costs of disposing of treated septage (called bio-solids).

Mississippi Mills must eventually find some place to deposit the bio-solids. One idea is to spread it on farmers' fields. However, the farmers expect it delivered and will balk at paying a trucking fee. Other options are landfill sites.

All options involve transportation costs. And worse, if the heavy metal content is high in the bio-solids, it must be shipped to an expensive treatment facility. In short, the cost of getting rid of the bio-solids may exceed any profit made from tipping fees.

My Position: Before we accept septage from other municipalities, we must determine the long-range liabilities and make sure external sources pay a full cost-recovery tipping fee. Never charge rural residents for an operating cost shortfall. If the septage facility can't pay its way, shut it down.