Septic contractor says Stettler County’s lagoon closure, road bans harming his business

A septic contractor who works with the County of Stettler told councillors that recent municipal decisions involving sewage lagoons and road bans are harming his business.

The presentation was made in person at the Oct. 12 regular meeting of council.

Darren Sutton, owner/operator of Sutton Septic Services, appeared before council to explain how closure of some Stettler County lagoons and Buffalo Lake road bans are threatening his business.

Sutton reminded councillors he has a contract with Stettler County to haul sewage for the municipality from a tank in the Buffalo Lake area. When he was awarded the contract for that work he pointed out his bid was about $100,000 lower than the next lowest bid.

Sutton told councillors he could justify a much lower base amount than other companies because he does a lot of other septic work in the Buffalo Lake area, and he’d be around there anyway.

He also pointed out while base rate was much lower than competitors, the hourly rate for extra work was the same, generally $150 an hour. He stated that rate is quite similar across the board because it has to pay equipment costs and other expenses that tend to be the same regardless of who’s doing the work.

Problems started in April 2022, Sutton stated when Stettler County decided that the White Sands and Rochon Sands couldn’t use county lagoons for their sewage. “It really hurt my business a lot when you shut lagoons down, out of the blue,” said Sutton.

Sutton stated he suddenly had to find another place to take that sewage, which turned out to be Bashaw which is further away and required longer trips.

Sutton stated his problem was compounded when in August of this year Stettler County placed a 75 per cent road ban on roads coming out of the county septic tanks.

The contractor, noting he’s currently losing money under these conditions, stated he’s the only local company that bid on that contract.

“You guys totally changed the parameters of my work that I bid on,” said Sutton. “I don’t think it’s very fair.”

He suggested a road use agreement that exempted his business from the road ban or an increase to the extra load rate as the $150 wasn’t enough under the current conditions.

“I can’t believe you expect me to honour this contract when you’ve changed the working parameters so much,” said Sutton.

Coun. Dave Grover asked how much Stettler County would have to bump up the extra rate to put Sutton back in the black.

Sutton, noting travel time, wear and tear and other factors, said the rate would almost have to double.

Coun. James Nibourg stated he felt Sutton must be saving money on some work because the Red Willow lagoon is closed and Sutton has to use Erskine instead, which is closer to Buffalo Lake.

Sutton stated that’s true.

Nibourg noted he wasn’t sure the hourly rate would need to double, then asked Sutton how many extra loads he’d haul to abide by the 75 per cent road ban. Sutton answered about 12 to 15 in the summer, about eight in the off season.

Nibourg stated perhaps both sides of the contract needed to consider more factors before signing it.

When asked by Coun. Justin Stevens when Bayview Street at Buffalo Lake was first banned, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Yvette Cassidy stated it has been banned as long as she’s been at Stettler County, which is almost 17 years.

Sutton responded that 2022 is the first year there was ever a road ban sign placed on Bayview Street, and that the road ban was never enforced in past years.

Reeve Larry Clarke noted infrastructure is one of Stettler County’s biggest expenses and it comes down to maintaining roads to a standard.

Sutton stated $200 per extra load would be acceptable, but he would simply prefer a road ban exemption for his business.

Clarke suggested the request be taken to a Committee of the Whole meeting where it could be debated and a decision made. The reeve said Sutton would be notified.

Sutton responded, “I’m fine with that. Thanks for listening.”

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review