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East Gwillimbury, region still waiting for province's decision on Upper York Sewage Solution

Ministry of Environment still deliberating on Environmental Assessment submitted in 2014
Jan. 31, 2020
Simon Martin

Waiting is the hardest part.

Mike Rabeau, York Region director of capital planning and delivery, made a familiar presentation to East Gwillimbury council about the latest updates in Upper York Sewage Solution (UYSS).

Much to council’s chagrin, the update wasn’t much different than last year or the year before. “It seems a little gloomy, because it's the exact same slide I presented to you last year and the year before, and maybe even the year before that,” Rabeau said. “The ministry has told us that they're satisfied with environmental assessment; it meets the terms of reference and is a compliance with the act.”

The Ministry of Environment, however, is still deliberating the Environmental Assessment on the UYSS that was submitted in 2014. Rabeau said the region originally expected approval in 2015.

The approval delay is due to the provincial duty to consult with the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, who live on the island in Lake Simcoe and have voiced their opposition to the construction of the new sewage plant.

“We feel that the solution is a good one, and it’s a sustainable one, and it’s actually a benefit to the Lake Simcoe Watershed,” Rabeau said.

Rabeau said the region has already spent more than $80 million on the project through its various studies and detailed design.

If their region were to get approval from the province in the next few months, Rabeau said the earliest possible date they could have the plant ready is 2027.

The delay is controversial in East Gwillimbury, as it has caused the Holland Landing Sewage Lagoons to remain open for the foreseeable future as their decommissioning is tied to the opening of the UYSS. That doesn’t sit well with many on East Gwillimbury council.

“I think a lot of residents are very happy that growth is being handcuffed right now,” Ward 1 Coun. Loralea Carruthers said. “I’m all in favour of the delay, except that we have the lagoons tied to this.”

It could be 10 or 15 years before the UYSS is up and running, which is simply too long to have the lagoons operational, she said.

The region is going to try new micronutrient technology at the lagoons this year to help reduce the odour. “We know this is a very sensitive issue for your community, and something that we’re very aware of,” Rabeau said. “We’re trying to find (a) way to manage what’s been an odour concern.”

Mayor Virginia Hackson welcomed any attempts from the region to help alleviate the pressing concern for many Holland Landing residents. “It sounds like it’s something brand new. So try it on us. We’re wide open to it,” Hackson said.

The irony of the lengthy wait is that it was the province that asked for the region to come up with a Lake Simcoe solution for the plant, rather than connect it to the existing Duffins Creek plant connected to Lake Ontario. The province chose to have it go north, so it will be a north solution.