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'Outhouse of sewage treatment': East Gwillimbury aims to close Holland Landing lagoons

Mayor Virginia Hackson said there is no way the proposed Upper York Sewage Solution in Queensville is going to happen
Jan. 12, 2021
Simon Martin

After East Gwillimbury’s long-term sewage plans were dealt a significant blow late last year, town council is now demanding the Holland Landing lagoons be decommissioned as soon as possible.

The lagoons are a sore point for the town as they were scheduled to be decommissioned years ago but council was told the lagoons had to remain operational until the Upper York Sewage Solution (UYSS) was built in Queensville.

Now the planned sewage plant in Queensville which the region has already spent $100 million on appears dead. “There is no way it is going to happen,” East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson said of the UYSS. “I think we are all wondering where we belong now.” 

The province is seriously considering a Lake Ontario-based sewage plan for future growth instead of a Lake Simcoe proposed plan the province asked for a more than a decade ago.

Originally entering service in 1974, the lagoons have provided sewage service for much of Holland Landing for the last 46 years. But the technology is outdated according to members of council. They are the last remaining operational lagoons in York Region.

Ward 2 Coun. Tara Roy-DIClemente said the technology is ancient. “It’s the outhouse of sewage treatment,” she said.

The town has been advocating for decommissioning the lagoons for years

The long-held belief from residents and council was that the lagoons would be decommissioned as soon as the York Durham Sewage System extension was completed in 2016.

But that wasn’t the case. The region said it needed to keep the lagoons operational until the Upper York Sewage Solution came online, so it can transfer the certificate of approval from the lagoons to the new sewage plant.

Due to provisions of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, there are no new sewage plants allowed on Lake Simcoe, so the region had to use the existing certificate from the lagoons for the new plant.

With the UYSS no longer in the cards, there appears to opportunity to decommission the lagoons, Ward 1 Coun. Loralea Carruthers said.

“I don’t know what more we can say. We need to keep repeating it. Keep bringing it top of mind,” she said of closing the lagoons. “Residents stopped complaining because they weren’t getting anywhere with their complaints.”

Carruthers and her fellow council members passed a motion to outline to the province that the lagoons need to be decommissioned as soon as possible.

The Town of Georgina passed a motion recently asking for the cancellation of the UYSS. In the motion it referred to the need for the Holland Landing Lagoons to be decommissioned. “What Georgina did really helped,” Carruthers said.

The province had recommended back in 2010 that York Region was to find a location in York for a new sewage plant. The UYSS project identified land in Queensville for the sewage plant, which included advanced treatment technologies.

Hackson said East Gwillimbury would certainly have wasted a lot of time and money if the province changes its decision on the project.

From a planning perspective, Hackson said the town has big-ticket items like the new operations centre and the new recreation centre with certain growth targets given by the province in mind. “We want to complete our community,” she said.

Hackson is particularly frustrated that the drawn-out process has paralyzed the closure of the lagoons, which she said is unacceptable today. Closing the lagoons is of the utmost importance, Hackson said.

The UYSS was no small project. The price tag was estimated at $715 million and the project was to enable growth of an additional 34,500 people in Aurora, 27,000 in Newmarket and 91,500 in East Gwillimbury. Hackson said she attended 22 public meetings on the project.