'How can this still be going on?' Parents fed up with development's septic leak on school field

A months-long septic leak on a school field in a suburb of Metro Vancouver has some parents calling on regional officials to cooperate so the issue can get resolved.

Anmore mayor says leak could be treated on site instead of solved by complicated sewer hookup

On Nov. 23, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy issued a pollution abatement order to Anmore Green Estates., which included temporary fencing and warning signs. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

A months-long septic leak on a school field in a Metro Vancouver suburb has parents calling on officials to cooperate so the issue can get resolved. 

"It is shocking," said Diane MacSporran, chair of the Parent Advisory Council at Eagle Mountain Middle School, which is in the Village of Anmore, at the edge of the border with Port Moody.

"I don't know how long you can stay shocked, but that's sort of my first gut feeling is how can this still be going on?" 

MacSporran said the school's field was fenced off in the fall when puddles on it were determined to be contaminated with fecal matter. 

The source appears to be a nearby development of about 50 homes, called Anmore Green Estates. 

Months later, the problem persists. Children still don't have access to the field, and MacSporran says she hears concerns from some parents that children are still walking through it and spreading contaminants to the school. 

Some say a cross-jurisdictional quagmire has created a stalemate. Other residents suspect the developer is using the problem as an opportunity to build more homes. 

"It's not a problem that's going away," MacSporran said.

'It's really quite frustrating'

After spring break, the school's PAC issued a letter-writing campaign to compel local officials to act.

Anmore is a semi-rural village with no sewer system — all the properties, except for the school, have septic tanks. 

Most of the homes in Anmore are single family developments with ample room for a house and a septic tank. The condensed 51 homes at Anmore Green Estates, built about 20 years ago, are the exception. 

The septic system services 51 homes and the 125 residents at Anmore Green Estates just up the hill from the school. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Brandie Roberts, the spokesperson for Anmore Green Estates, says the development's septic system began to leak after the nearby Eagle Mountain Middle school was built in 2015. 

On Nov. 23, the Ministry of the Environment ordered the strata to fence off the area and erect warning signs as a cautionary measure. It also ordered the strata to fix its septic system.

Last week the Ministry of the Environment issued a new abatement order for a peer-reviewed engineering assessment of the problem to determine how the issue can be resolved. 

Roberts, whose child will attend the school next year, said an engineering report the estate commissioned last fall determined the best long-term solution is to hook up to Port Moody's sewer system, which is about 100 metres away. 

"It's really quite frustrating in terms of how there's a really simple solution that can actually be fixed in one day," she said. 

'It wouldn't be fair'

But Anmore Mayor John McEwen says if Green Estates hooked up to the sewer system, so would the entire village according to the Greater Vancouver Regional District's rules.

He says that would cost the village $150,000 per year.

"It wouldn't be fair to put [that cost] to the entirety to the village," he said.

McEwen says he believes the estates could resolve the issue by upgrading its septic system using new technology. 

The field at Eagle Mountain Middle School has been fenced off because of fecal contamination since last fall. (CBC)

"I believe there are alternatives for onsite treatment," he said. 

He also points out that, if the hookup was allowed, the land on the estates that is currently taken up by the septic tank could be developed into another dozen or so homes. 

'This is a serious issue'

McEwen says there is some talk in the community that this is the real reason why the estates want to hook up to Port Moody. 

Roberts acknowledges that rumour, and says the developer did originally intend to hook up to the Port Moody sewer system and develop the remaining property. 

But she said that now, the focus of all the residents at the estate is to find a solution. 

Roberts says residents of the estates would be willing to pay a sewer hook-up fee and additional premium for the ongoing costs. There is a precedent, she says — the school, which technically sits in Anmore, is connected to Port Moody's system.

"This is a serious issue in our neighbourhood," she said. "It does require multiple jurisdictions and groups to come to the table and have discussion, and not just continuously put their hand up and say it's not my responsibility."

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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