September 17, 2007

PEI tests simplified process for installing on-site sewage disposal systems

Prince Edward Island has launched a new pilot program which will simplify the installation of on-site sewage disposal systems. The two-year pilot program will test an alternate approach that allows licensed contractors who have a site assessor's licence to assess sites and install systems without going through the permit process. It is similar to the system in place for other services such as well drilling and septic pumping.

Environment, Energy and Forestry Minister George Webster said 22 contractors are participating in the pilot program. They completed a site assessor's training course and passed a written exam to receive their site assessor's licence. During the test period, some contractors will continue to operate under the existing permit process so the department will be able to evaluate both approaches to determine which works better.

About 40% of PEI homes have on-site systems to treat and dispose of household wastewater. The approval of on-site sewage disposal systems entails a permit process involving government at several stages, from assessing a site for its suitability for on-site sewage disposal to inspecting work conducted by contractors.

With the establishment of the pilot project, government has also amended the regulations to require all site assessments to include permeability testing. These tests are used to determine the type of soil and how quickly liquid will filter through it. This information is needed to ensure that the sewage disposal system installed is the proper size for the soil type. If the system is not properly sized it can fail, leading to groundwater contamination and requiring replacement, which can cost a homeowner up to $15,000.

Contractors participating in the pilot project can do the permeability testing because they are licensed site assessors. Environment, Energy and Forestry department staff will conduct the site assessments, including permeability testing, for contractors who are not participating in the pilot.

The department has developed a detailed technical guidelines document that can be used by both contractors participating in the pilot program and those using the permit process. It provides guidance on site assessment, selecting the appropriate sewage disposal system, and installing and maintaining systems.

In other developments, PEI has banned use of plastic bags to contain excess organic wastes awaiting collection, as of September 1, 2007. The Island Waste Management Corporation (IWMC) says residents who completely fill their compost bins should use an open rigid container or a paper yard and garden bag to hold any excess.

IWMC CEO Gerry Moore noted that using paper rather than plastic bags for excess organics offers a number of advantages: the paper bags are made from recycled wood chips, they are easier for drivers to collect, and they are biodegradeable so they can enter the compost stream successfully. The option of using an open rigid container offers a reusable solution. Collection of organic wastes is part of PEI's Waste Watch program.

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