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Judge backs Lacombe County in communal sewage fight

County has right to require property owners to connect to communal sewage system, says judge

Lacombe County has the right to make property owners in a new subdivision connect to a communal sewer system, a Red Deer judge has ruled.

In a July 13 decision, Red Deer Court of King’s Bench Justice Gaylene Kendell said the county has the authority to require the sewer connection and granted the county’s injunction requiring the owners of two properties in Kuusamo Krest subdivision on the northwest side of Sylvan Lake to connect to the communal sewage system.

The judge notes the property owners do not deny they have not abided by the Sylvan Lake Communal Sewage Bylaw requiring properties to link to a communal sewage system, a stance which constitutes “an open and continuous disregard of an imperative public statute.

“The Respondents have not pointed to any exceptional circumstances that would warrant refusing to grant the injunction,” the judge ruled.

Owners of two properties were ordered to connect their properties to the communal system. If they did not, the county was given the authority to go in and do the work and send the bill to the property owners.

The legal dispute has been going on for seven years, including a lengthy interruption while a similar case with another Lacombe County property owner was before the courts. The county prevailed in that case as well.

In opposing the mandatory hookup, the property owners’ lawyer argued that the sewage bylaw was contrary to the Sylvan Lake Intermunicipal Development Plan, a planning document for Lacombe and Red Deer Counties, Town of Sylvan Lake and five summer villages that guides development around the lake.

It was also argued that since construction has not begun on the regional sewage line yet, the required hookup deadlines to the communal system that serves the homes in Kuusamo Krest and would eventually be tied into the regional system are “arbitrary and capricious,” the lawyer argued.

The property owners contend the private septic tanks they are using “were installed to protect the environment and have operated without incident.”

The county argues that just because property owners have well-functioning sewage systems it should not mean they can opt out of a communal and a later regional sewage system.

The judge agreed.

“The Respondents concede that the the communal wastewater system is an initial step towards the eventual regional system. Requiring connection for this initial step is not capricious or absent rationale or principle.”

County director of planning services Dale Freitag said the county is “pleased the judge reinforced what we’re trying to achieve through our planning documents.

“Both through our Municipal Development Plan and our Sylvan Lake Area Structure Plan Lacombe County is committed to regional wastewater systems to protect the health of the lake,” said Freitag. “We initiated the communal system in our existing multi-parcel developments to get sewer away from the lake to protect the health of the lake.

“That’s why (the decision) is important.”

Lacombe County first notified the property owners in March 2016 that they were required to hook up to a communal system. However, nothing happened while the other legal challenge was dealt with. Property owners were notified of the required hookup again in March 2018 and May 2019 and given until Oct. 31, 2020 to comply.

A one-year extension was granted and on Nov. 2, 2021 the county advised the property owners if they did not hook up within 30 days the county would do it at their expense, which then triggered the legal fight.

– This story was changed on July 21 to reflect the properties in question are in Kuusamo Krest subdivision.

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