SOUTH ST. CLEMENTS -- The reeking, unsanitary, river-polluting septic problem that has given this capital region neighbourhood a black eye and a bad odour may finally be resolved.
Sewage is expected to soon stop flowing into ditches and the Red River from homes in the RM of St. Clements thanks to a three-way deal struck this week between the RM, province and Ottawa.
The RM has obtained funding to build a $6-million low-pressure sewer line down Henderson Highway from East St. Paul to Lockport to remedy the two-decade-old problem.
At least 64 homes on Old River Road and Danko Drive were built on lots too small for adequate septic fields. A 1970s engineer's report recommended lots no smaller than two acres in size, but the council of the day ignored the report and permitted a developer to build on half-acre lots.
There's no problem when it's dry but after heavy rains or when soil moisture is high, the septic fields overflow into the ditches and the Red.
"We go for walks with our dog and, oh my God, the stench," said one resident.
Said another long-time resident: "It's very nice to smell when you're sitting out in your backyard. I'm being sarcastic." But homes in the area still sell "for big bucks because city people don't know anything about septic fields," he said.
The area is under a public health order, similar to a boil water order, requiring the RM to pump out ditches after heavy rains. The contaminated water is pumped into a septic truck and transported to a treatment plant.
The new sewer line will cost from $14,000 to $19,000 per home on Old River Road and Danko Drive, for whom hookup will be mandatory. The cost can be amortized over 20 years. The physical hookup will be an added cost. Frontage varies greatly but the average is 61 metres here, versus 15 to 21 metres in Winnipeg. Some homes on Old River sell for half a million dollars, while some homes on Danko Drive sell for nearly a million dollars.
"It's just been a long time coming," said St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang. The sewer line will also facilitate future residential development in South St. Clements.
Additional homeowners along Henderson Highway will have the option to connect to the sewer line but the RM will gauge demand. Its treatment plant in Lockport is believed to have capacity for perhaps 20 homes in addition to Old River Road and Danko Drive.
A second treatment plant will likely be built at a cost of $1-$1.5 million if enough additional residents want to hook up to the sewer line, said Strang. There is still sewage leakage into the river from some Henderson Highway homes.
Another option for sewage treatment is for St. Clements to partner with the RM of St. Andrews on a larger treatment plant. Capital region RMs are also excited about the service-sharing agreement Winnipeg signed with West St. Paul to treat that RM's waste water.
"Maybe the answer is we're all connected to the city and only building lines and not treatment plants. That is a strong possibility," said Strang.
With septic fields, sewage is pumped into a pocket 1.5 metres below the ground and is supposed to dissipate down through the soil. However, the Red River clay along Henderson Highway is impermeable. So when septic fields fill, the sewage has nowhere to go but up. East St. Paul, West St. Paul, St. Andrews and Headingley also have problems with leaky septic fields near waterways.
Residents of South St. Clements thought they had a deal four years ago with East St. Paul to spring federal dollars for a sewer line but East St. Paul backed out. The final hurdle to the low-pressure sewer line was getting Ottawa to pony up. The three levels of government will each put in $2 million.
The RM is required to fix the sewage problem under the public health order. A public meeting will be held with more details but most people are in favour, say residents and council members. The thinking is any money spent for a septic system will be earned back in higher property values.
"We're hoping to go to tender and have something started later this year or the start of next year," Strang said. St. Clements is one of the larger capital region RMs with a population of about 10,500.