Who approved placing a composting toilet in Dufferin Grove Park?
It’s a secret!!
[Not a secret. The owner of the park, i.e., Parks, Forestry and Recreation approved the project, in collaboration with Buildings and Toronto Public Health. Parks staff have clearly told this to the complainants.]
Construction of a composting toilet building with a leaching bed has already begun on a site just west of the walkway near the children’s playground area. The fifteen foot high building [The building is 12 feet high at its highest point. Most of it is less than that, going down as low as 8 feet. The roof is a green roof, growing flowers and grasses, so it will blend in well] containing the toilet is proposed to be located at the west end of the site with several permanent cob structures [There will be only one building, plus two small cob benches nearby (already in place)] (similar to the structure abutting the wading pool) enclosing the perimeter [no perimeter wall, just the composting toilet surround] of the site. The foundation of the toilet building appears to have been completed by volunteers. The Friends of Dufferin Grove Park are promoting the project and have obtained funding for the compost toilet.
What is a composting toilet and what is a leaching bed?
A composting toilet is a sewage treatment system. Human waste is slowly decomposed primarily by aerobic bacteria and through the addition of a bulking agent (usually wood shavings) which breaks the waste down into liquid effluent (human waste). It passes through a filter layer and drains to a leaching bed. A leaching bed means a filter bed located wholly in the ground, or raised or partly raised above ground to which effluent from a treatment unit (the composting toilet) is applied for treatment and disposal. [This is not an accurate description. See the August 21 technical responses sent to the complainants.]
Such toilets can be found in remote areas where connection to a sewer system is not possible [Not only in remote areas. The same toilet is in downtown Vancouver. Edmonton is planning for them, and the Department of Highways has used them along main highways for some years] i.e. in national parks. It is our understanding that this is the first composting toilet being proposed for a heavily used City Park where sewer connections are readily available for regular toilet hookup.
What are our concerns?
At a meeting on July 26 with a City Parks supervisor we identified several issues:
- location, no hand-washing facilities, possible ground-water contamination
- complications of inserting materials other than human waste on the toilet function
- under whose jurisdiction and responsibility does this project fall?
- Who is responsible for providing and maintaining construction site safety, for the installation of the toilet, the monitoring of usage, maintenance and repair? [All these responsibilities ultimately belong to the property owner i.e. the Corporation of the City of Toronto through the Parks, Forestry and Recreation Division. Friends of the park will help out lots, as they have for years.]
We requested complete details of the proposal [All the requested details were sent to the complainants in August, and posted on the dufferinpark.ca website at the same time], an outline of the approvals process by City hall and a flyer outlining all of this information to be hand-delivered to area residents. We have since written to several City department heads and to Councillor Giambrone asking for confirmation of the following statements made to us by City staff in Buildings, parks and Public Health:
The composting toilet (with its leaching bed) is not a permitted use and contravenes the City of Toronto Municipal Act, the Ontario Building Code Act and the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing policies and procedures re qualifications as well as registration and licensing procedures for on-site sewage system installers. [This complaint needs specific citations. The Building Code specifically allows composting toilets and the other references are too vague – numbers needed.]
We have received no responses from the bureaucrats. [The Parks manager asked to meet with the complainants and they refused. They also refused to meet with Georgie Donais, the neighbourhood coordinator of this project.]
In order to encourage these top City bureaucrats to respond in a timely fashion we have now written to the mayor and all members of Council requesting their help.
How did this construction get to far without neighbouring residents being consulted?
The friends of Dufferin Grove Park have been touting the notion that two so-called "public meetings" were held June 25 and September 12 and that all residents attending were in favour of the proposal. Unfortunately, notices of both meetings had only been placed in the park itself near the wading pool and on the Friends’ web site and through their internal e-mail list. [Both meetings were advertised on posters all over the park. They were also featured in the monthly park newsletter and on the home page of the dufferinpark.ca web site.] No notices were delivered to the surrounding neighbourhood. [City Councillor Adam Giambrone had 350 notices dropped into neighbourhood mailboxes for the September 12 meeting.] When we heard via the friends’ web-site about a proposed September 12 meeting, Councillor Giambrone assured us that he would arrange for hand-delivered notices of the meeting to be distributed to all neighbourhood residents.
So much for Giambrone’s promises! The notices were not delivered!
It wasn’t until the Star wrote an article on the toilet followed by a letter to the editor response by Carol Seljak that many neighbourhood residents first got a whiff of it. People came out of their houses and began to share their surprise and disbelief with their neighbours. One neighbour felt deceived by a volunteer worker who told him that the project was simply more art sculptures making no mention of the composting toilet. [The composting toilet information sheets were posted on the project fence from the beginning of the summer, for everyone to read. No one was being sneaky about the project.]
How can you find out more about this project?
We area residents and park users need to have a real public meeting not a farcical, stacked meeting. [The September 12 meeting had almost 100 neighbours discussing all aspect of the project. But the complainants did not appear. How then did they know the meeting was “farcical” and “stacked”? If only Carol Seljak had consented to talk directly to Georgie Donais, or to the Parks manager, or to the friendly neighbours at the meeting, Carol and her friends would not have to worry so much now!] so that we can hear detailed information about the proposal, have our questions answered, and our concerns addressed. We need a fair meeting where speakers identify themselves and where they live. We need to have an impartial chair who allows various opinions to come forward.
We want an approvals process that gives area residents a say in what happens in our park!