A series of unconscionable delays in granting approval to critical wastewater infrastructure - blamed by York Region on the Province – could see the Town engulfed in raw sewage.

The Region has been working for years on the “Upper York Sewage Solutions” project which is designed to provide sewage servicing for anticipated growth in Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury. It involves building a new water reclamation centre and a second sewage pipe (or “forcemain”) through Newmarket. The existing one is forty years old and if it were to fail there is no back-up.  

The second forcemain was expected to be completed by the end of 2019 and the Water Reclamation Centre by 2024 but these forecasts were based on information from the Ministry that approval would be forthcoming in early 2017.

That didn’t happen. In December 2016, the Province discovered it had a legal duty to consult with indigenous peoples, the Chippewas of Georgina Island, but was nevertheless confident this could be wrapped up by July 2017. It is still ongoing.

Eats money

The project eats money. So far, $65 million has been spent but the total cost of Upper York Sewage Solutions runs to an eye watering $714,575,000.

Last Thursday (January 18) the Regional Council in an exercise of collective hand-wringing met to decide what to do next.

So-called “servicing allocations” already ration sewage pipe hook-ups in Newmarket with developers waiting in a queue for approval. Developments are ranked by priority with the lowest expected to wait longest for connection to the sewers.

A report from the Region’s Environmental Services chief, the impressive Erin Mahoney, warns that a delay in getting a second forcemain in Newmarket could have cataclysmic consequences.

“In case of sewage spillage or surcharge in local collection systems due to either a forcemain break or high flow conditions, untreated sewage would either enter into natural water courses or potentially cause sewage to back-up in residential homes, creating environmental and public health concerns.”

She goes on:

“These risks materialised during the prolonged and high-intensity storm event on June 23, 2017 that resulted in sewage spillage and surcharge in local collection systems.”



First to comment is Richmond Hill’s Vito Spatafora. He is full of righteous indignation. He reminds us it took the Minister over two years to realise the First Nation peoples had to be consulted. And we still don’t have a decision! With an election on the horizon he predicts everything will be going into limbo. How can we force the Minister to make a decision?

Ms Mahoney tells us the recent Cabinet reshuffle has certainly complicated things. She says she has left no stone unturned. I see the jowls of Regional Chair, Wayne Emmerson (below), quivering in agreement. But she says it is up to the Province to consult with the Chippewas. It is not something that can be delegated to the Region.

I learn that a report will be coming before the Council by the end of June suggesting “interim solutions” although it is difficult to imagine what these may be if the Gods turn against us and the heavens open in a prolonged downpour.

Ms Mahoney refers to Newmarket’s “Hold Tank”. I wince at the thought. She tells us darkly that it will hold things

“for days rather than weeks”.

Van Trappist Contemplates Redundancy

Now I see Newmarket’s Mayor, Tony Van Trappist, stir. Unusually, he is preparing to express a view.

He tells us it is a very critical issue. If the forcemain were to rupture

“there would be no redundancy”.

This is a good example of managerialist “Trappist-speak”. Translated, he too wants a second sewage pipe.

And the great man has thought of a way to prod the Province into action.

He says that in the event of a “sanitary sewage forcemain failure” which was the result of delay in approval then the costs should be recovered from the Province. They are to blame because they ignored us!

Drawing on decades of experience, the old banker chortles:

“We should never under-estimate the wallet as an effective listening device!”

Now East Gwillimbury’s Virginia Hackson weighs in.

She despairs there is no environmental approval and wants to focus on the interim solutions promised earlier by Regional staff. East Gwillimbury, like Newmarket, is a designated Place to Grow but they need additional capacity. Urgently.

Dereliction of duty

Now Aurora Mayor, Geoffrey Dawe, accuses the Province of dereliction of duty. He tuts and he scolds in his theatrical way and accuses the Province of going off the rails.  

He points to Erin Mahoney’s background report and declares:

“This should be required reading for every elected official.”

He cries: Now is the time to go public! 

Elected officials who for years resisted the intrusion of television cameras into their cosy meetings now want the public to get engaged and share their outrage.

What a delicious irony!

If the unthinkable happens, the cameras will certainly be rolling. 

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