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Septic issue bubbles to surface near schools

Staff and students at Eagle Mountain middle school in Anmore and Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody have been advised to stay away from a nearby area that is contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform.
Septic failure
Robert Boies, the strata president at Anmore Green Estates, said warning signs and fencing erected Dec. 23 at the bottom of a hillside next to Eagle Mountain middle school, are part of its effort to mitigate the hazard from the failure of the townhouse development's septic field. He said the problem has been known for years, but wrangling between various jurisdictions of government have prevented a solution.

Staff and students at Eagle Mountain middle school in Anmore and Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody have been advised to stay away from a nearby area that is contaminated with E. coli and fecal coliform.

“We have communicated with staff, principals and students… about staying out of the marked off areas until we have more information,” said the chair of School District 43 Kerri Palmer Isaak.

High levels of contamination (above 100 most probable number per gram) were detected at three of eight sites on a hillside on the northeast corner of the school’s property that were tested Sept. 27, 2017, according to David Karn, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of the Environment. Moderate levels were found at four locations and one had no detectable contamination.

The contamination likely leached downhill from a failed septic system that services the Anmore Green Estates and the townhouse development’s strata was issued a pollution abatement order to submit a plan to correct the problem and mitigate risks to public health by Dec. 31. That deadline was then extended to Jan. 15.

But the president of the strata said the issues with its septic system go back “for the better part of 15 years.”

Robert Boies, who’s an original owner in the complex but currently rents out his unit, said the construction of Eagle Mountain middle and Heritage Woods secondary schools had a negative impact on Anmore Green's septic system. A daycare is also located on the site and community sports fields at its east end.

“When they built the two schools, the hillside cutbacks were so significant they completely altered the ability for the septic field to function,” Boies said.

He said the strata has already spent about $750,000 over the years trying to repair the system and for ongoing monitoring and pumping when that didn’t work. It has even offered to cover the $250,000 cost of connecting the townhomes to Port Moody’s sewer system, about 50 metres away, but that effort has been caught up in political wrangling between various jurisdictions of government.

“We have an environmental health and safety issue here and it can’t be fixed,” Boies said. “It’s kind of stuck in this political no-man’s land.”

A letter provided to The Tri-City News, dated Nov. 3, 2017, from Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay to Anmore Mayor John McEwen and the village council, said connecting the townhouse complex to the city’s municipal sewer system would be “the best solution” and even has the support of Metro Vancouver. “But," Clay wrote, "we understand Anmore is unwilling to move to join the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District.”

He offered to redraw municipal boundaries to bring the Anmore Green Estates into Port Moody city limits.

“Our council has asked that we reach out to see if the village has any interest in such,” the letter stated.

Boies said to comply with the abatement order, on Dec. 23 the strata erected fencing and bright yellow warning signs all along the bottom of the hillside next to Eagle Mountain middle and above Heritage Mountain secondary’s rear parking lot. Part of the fencing runs along an asphalt basketball court.

“We don’t go near it,” Boies said, adding he wears protective booties and gloves whenever he enters the contaminated property but he regularly sees kids cutting through it on their way to and from school. “It’s a hot potato that keeps getting passed back and forth.”

Peter Chevrier, the school district’s community relations manager, said students, parents and staff of the affected schools will be updated as more information is made availably the ministry or Anmore Green Estates.

“Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our students and employees,” he said.

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