Problems with Edwin and Wanda Doyle's septic system have escalated over the last few years, and the Gull Island couple believes the provincial government should do something about it.
"Usually it's worse in the winter," Edwin told The Compass during a recent interview at his home in the unincorporated Conception Bay North community.
Approximately 50 metres west of the Doyle's property sits Gull Island Brook. Their house is on the corner of Beach Road, across from the start of Doyles Lane and directly next to the main highway, Route 70.
Coming out from under the highway towards the shore, the brook is filled with mud and vegetation. According to Edwin, this wasn't always the case.
"It freezes up, and when it freezes up ... the water fills our sewer tank and backs up," Edwin explained. "Because it can't go out cause it's frozen, it comes back up in our pipes. In the shower is the worst of it. The toilet, sometimes you've got to wait a day or so for it to go down ... When it's coming up in the shower, you're looking at a health issue."
Sewage often backs up into the shower when it's used, and the Doyles cannot use their washing machine for clothes.
The Doyles replaced their septic tank, buried about 12 feet from the home, last year through a government grant. The pressure generated from the old tank was considerable, according to Edwin.
"That sewer tank now, and it's not even a year old, it's useless to me, because it's always filled with water," he said.
For the last six years, the Doyles have been actively trying to find a way to get help. He believes dredging in the brook just south of the highway would solve the problem, but hasn't been able to get any action from the province. Edwin claims the province cleaned out the same area decades ago when multiple people complained, including his uncle's family, who at the time were growing vegetables nearby. He's waded into the brook with a pick and shovel, but Edwin can't put much of a dent in mud that's approximately three feet deep.
According to Edwin, there are some trout in the brook. He said officials from the provincial environment and fisheries departments have come out to the site and said it would be acceptable to clean the area out, but Edwin admits he can't afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars to do so.
These days, Edwin has mostly dealt with the Department of Transportation and Works. He says he also raised the matter with the department's minister Steve Crocker, who is also the local MHA. In an email to The Compass, a department spokesman said it has in fact "provided assistance to help Mr. Doyle with the issues on his property.
"Earlier this summer, a contractor dredged the stream downstream of his property to help increase the flow of water away from Mr. Doyle’s property. The department also checks nearby culverts to ensure water flow is not obstructed."
That work happened in an area along the brook on Beach Road near a corner where it intersects an unnamed road that sits between Beach Road and Folly Road. Edwin Doyle does not believe this work helped his situation. He said a person who lives in his neighbourhood cleaned out the same area last year and considers the work the province paid for this summer to be a waste of money.
"That was done over a month-and-a-half ago," he said. "The water has not dropped one bit. The problem is still here."
Edwin said a government official told him there would also be an access issue for doing work along the stretch of the brook he wants cleaned out, as it would involve private land. However, he says relatives who own some of the land in question have granted him permission to access it if necessary.
The Department of Transportation and Works spokesman indicated further dredging is not an option in this case.
"Engineers in the department have looked into further dredging. However, that could change the water table, dry out wetlands upstream, and create issues for other property owners and properties with wells.
"Other possible solutions to the issue, such as a lift station installed for the septic system to raise it above the water table, are the responsibility of the homeowner," the department wrote.
Wanda Doyle suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and last year summer ended up in hospital for one week. Doctors could not figure out what was wrong.
"In a month and a half, she lost 40 pounds," said her husband. "We still never got an answer ... They don't really know what happened. I don't know if it's because of the sewer problem that was going on all winter."
They've tried engaging the Department of Health and Community Service about the state of their property, but have not been able to convince someone to come there for a site visit.
The Doyles have discussed the possibility of leaving their home (it previously belonged to Edwin's late mother), but Edwin said that would be difficult at this stage of his life. He currently works at the fish plant in Bay de Verde.
"I'm 59 years old. I don't have a trade. What am I going to go into?"