Sunday, 17 June 2012

The MD Weighs In on our Reno

Before we left on vacation, we hired a contractor to do our upcoming reno and tasked him to obtain the needed permits from the local Municipal District (MD, our government) while we were gone. Only a few days into the trip, we found out that the MD needed a written letter from us authorizing the contractor to do things on our behalf. It happened to be in Mitchell, South Dakota (where my car got destroyed by a hailstorm) that we pulled together a letter, printed it, signed it and faxed it to the MD. I was faxing the letter when the hailstorm hit.

We arrived home to find that one of the two needed permits, the Development Permit ("DP") had been issued. The Building Permit is still under review.

The DP had two conditions in it. Now, before I explain the conditions, be aware our reno achieves the following:

  • Adds a 7' extension to our kitchen, including a basement room underneath it;
  • Moves the sink 4', and turns the dishwasher 180°;
  • Moves our washer/dryer upstairs. Currently they sit in the basement, below the level of the septic tank. When the washer empties, it has to pump up, and when the pumping is done, about 4 liters of wash water drains back into the machine.
  • Replaces our roof, and stops it leaking;
  • Fixes the drainage on the house and stops the basement leaking;
  • Repairs the failing retaining wall in the back yard, making the property safer.
The MD put two conditions of interest on the DP approval:
  1. To make sure the driveway is inspected and confirmed that it is in the correct place, and
  2. To insure that our septic tank is performing in accordance with the current (2009) standards for private septic systems.
The driveway? We're not changing the driveway. The driveway has been there for ~40 years. Why check it now? Our contractor had the MD's inspector come by and they said it's fine. But why even bother to put that condition on? In addition, the driveway has to comply with an MD policy (Policy T-16) that you can't get off the MD's website. You have to get the MD's inspector to give you a copy. So you have to comply with a rule, but they're not going to tell you what it is...

Our septic system (two tanks and a field) was installed around 1973. In the mid 1980's, the house was expanded and 2 bathrooms were installed. Nothing has been done since. But because we want to move the sink 4', we have to confirm the septic system is in compliance with the current (2009) code -- not, I hasten to add, the code in place when the system was installed. We have to incur additional expense to make sure the system that has been in place since the early 1980’s would meet a design standard of 2009 to do the same job it’s been doing since the 1980’s.

So we called a local engineering company (an engineering stamp is required by the MD) and they came to look. We have no information on the location of the field, and the only thing we know about the septic tanks is (a) what we can see, and (b) the info on a private septic inspection we had done as a condition of purchase.

The engineer came out and poked around in our yard for an hour or so with a long rod trying to locate the field to no avail. Our ground is rocky, gravelly glacial till, and he either ran into rocks 6" down, or the rod went in 6' without resistance. We haven't yet had a formal proposal for a work plan, but right now, here's what he thinks we have to do to move our sink 4':
  • Dig around the septic tank outlet to find the pipe leaving the tank
  • Inspect that pipe, look at the soil and search for bacterial evidence of treatment;
  • Dig at least 10 holes ~3' deep in the yard to locate the field, including the header and the laterals;
  • Inspect the exposed pipes, and the soil, and look for bacterial films;
  • Establish the actual size and location of the entire septic field.
All to move the sink 4'.

Why? Good question. Probably because the MD doesn't like the use of septic systems in our community. They spent millions a few years back to convert the commercial businesses in the hamlet onto a sewer line. But because of the cost involved, no residents joined the line, and there's no infrastructure connecting the residences to the line. If the MD manages to "force" people on to the sewer line, they can increase the density of the hamlet, and sell off the municipal reserve (forest) lots in the hamlet - like the 5 acre forest across from my house. No one in the hamlet wants them to do that. So conditions like this are the MD's way of trying to force us onto their sewer line -- for which we would pay ~$100,000 over 30 years, plus the cost of sewage treatment.

All the move the sink 4'.

And in the meantime, the work held up means my roof leaks, my basement leaks and my retaining wall continues to fail. But only when it rains -- like, say, last weekend when we had record rainfall and there was flooding in Canmore.

Dealing with the MD is SO much fun.

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