Engineers say Anmore Green’s septic system can’t be fixed

The failing septic fields at Anmore Green Estates can’t be repaired or replaced, according to an engineering report that is part of the strata development’s action plan to solve the problem of contaminated water leaching onto the properties of two neighbouring schools.

The plan, which was prepared by the consulting firm Associated Environmental, was submitted to the Ministry of Environment last Friday.

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The engineering report, by S. Graham Engineering and Geology Inc., said the “only practical and feasible option” to stop leaks of contaminated water on to the grounds at  at Eagle Mountain middle and Heritage Woods secondary schools, is to connect the 51 properties in the development to Port Moody’s municipal sewer system about 60 metres away.

But the mayor of Anmore, where the strata is located, isn’t convinced that’s the only solution, or that the leaching water is a problem.

“It’s surprising there’s no other option,” said John McEwen, adding that technological advances in septic technology in the years since Anmore Green was built in 1999 mean “there should be new systems in place.”

The engineering report said there’s not enough land available to build a mound to create a layer of unsaturated soil above the surface of the septic field, and the cost and technical expertise of building a tertiary sewage treatment system is “beyond the capabilities” of the strata. It also wouldn’t completely eliminate the risk of further leaks. 

McEwen said he has passed the lengthy report to the village’s own engineering department for its assessment, which he expects will be completed sometime next week. But until he has received some sort of confirmation that the leaching water is contaminated by human waste from the septic field and not just dog or bird waste, he said he’s not pushing any panic buttons.

“It needs to be determined what this is,” McEwen said.

But in the pollution abatement order issued to the strata Nov. 23, 2017, the Ministry of Environment said the high levels of E. coli and fecal coliforms detected at one of eight sites on the hillside that was tested in Sept., 2017 were “likely due to the migration of effluent discharged” from Anmore Green’s two septic fields. Another three sites that were tested also showed high levels of contamination while three more showed moderate levels and the remaining site came back with no detectable level.

The order required Anmore Green to take immediate action to mitigate the risk to public health and to submit an action plan to deal with the problem by Dec. 31, a deadline that was extended to Jan. 15 and then to Jan. 19.

The strata must submit a formal report to the ministry by March 1 outlining what it has done to fix the problem, as well as a long-term plan to address the source of the pollution.

Failure to comply could result in fines up to $300,000 and imprisonment for not more than six months, as well as an administrative penalty of up to $40,000 under the Environmental Management Act.

Rob Boies, the president of Anmore Green’s strata and an original owner in the development — though he now rents out his property — said residents “are prepared to live by the directive of the Ministry of Environment,” adding, “If they feel it’s prudent to penalize a group of residents who are trying to comply, we’ll deal with it at that time.”

Boies said residents have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years trying to address problems with the development’s septic fields that have been ongoing for years and, according to the engineering report, were exacerbated by the deep cutbacks made to the hillside below the fields to accommodate the construction of the two schools and a sports field. He said they’re also willing to bear the $250,000 cost of making the connection to Port Moody’s municipal sewer system.

“They are a large group of very fearful homeowners who are concerned about the immediate and long-term value of their homes,” said Boies, who's a realtor.

In fact, an intent to connect Anmore Green “to a municipal sewerage system when such facilities become available” was part of the original Ministry of Environment permit to operate the septic system when it was redeveloped in 1999. Before that, the site was a mobile home park with a smaller septic system that was permitted in 1978.

Since then, numerous overtures to realize that connection failed.

All of Anmore is on septic systems and the village doesn’t belong to the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Discharge District (GVS&DD), which administers municipal sewer systems for all of Metro Vancouver. Each municipality in the district pays an annual membership fee and shares in the cost of constructing and maintaining infrastructure.

McEwen said Anmore’s residents aren’t interested in bearing that cost.

In 2007, Anmore council requested information regarding the cost of joining the GVS&DD as part of a resolution it passed to support connecting Anmore Green to Port Moody’s municipal sewer systems. The following year, the village was granted conditional membership. But connecting Anmore Green required an agreement with Port Moody to connect to its pipe. When the village and the strata balked at paying the city $40,000 for a study to explore the feasibility of the connection because there was no assurance it would be realized, the deal fell apart.

In 2011, Anmore council supported another request by Anmore Green for a sewer connection. But when the GVS&DD said the village would need to join the regional system, council withdrew its support.

Another request for council’s support in June of last year was also denied, and then reiterated in a recommendation that was adopted on Dec. 5 after a letter from Port Moody Mayor Mike Clay offered to redraw municipal boundaries to bring Anmore Green within its city limits to allow a hookup.

Boies said the roadblocks thrown up by various government agencies have been frustrating.

“Quite frankly, we need somebody with the authority to rectify the situation to lean in,” Boies said. “The solution is right before them.”

While the GVS&DD restated its position the whole village of Anmore must join the regional system to allow Anmore Green to hook up as recently as Nov. 2, the action plan suggests the Ministry’s order may offer a path to a solution as the GVS&DD’s implementation guidelines allow for exceptions if a specific connection is “the only reasonable means of preventing or alleviating a public health or environmental contamination risk.”

A letter sent by Anmore Green on Jan. 10 to the GVS&DD suggested the ministry’s pollution abatement order means there is a risk to public health. The GVS&DD replied two days later that it would send the request to its policy group for review.

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