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York Region needs to get 'very aggressive' with province for sewage solution: Newmarket mayor

'The only reason it's not being done is because it’s difficult politically,' John Taylor says of the delay in approval for the sewage plant in East Gwillimbury needed for future growth
June 28, 2021

Newmarket's mayor said York Region may need to put legal pressure on the province to progress the much needed Upper York Sewage Solutions project.

"We need to get very aggressive with the province, both politically -- maybe even legally -- and other ways," Mayor John Taylor said at a Newmarket economic development advisory committee meeting June 23 about the sewage solution required for future growth in Newmarket, Aurora and East Gwillimbury.

The province has further delay the proposed $715-million York sewage plant in East Gwillimbury with Bill 306, introduced June 3. The move sparked an outcry from Newmarket and York Region, who have waited for more than a decade for the project to be approved.

Taylor described discussions with the province as “tense.”

York Region council discussed the topic June 24 in a closed session due to “solicitor-client privilege and potential litigation,” an exemption under freedom of information law.

Bill 306, which has yet to be implemented, states that the minister of environment, conservation and parks will not sign off on an environmental assessment for the plant, which was completed in 2014. Instead, the ministry plans to convene an expert panel to study the matter and alternatives.

The Upper York project has attracted opposition from environmental groups and the Chippewas of Georgina Island, concerned about the impact of dumping sewage in Lake Simcoe.

The province has suggested an alternative option to divert more sewage to a plant in Pickering.

Taylor said the matter might not get resolved until after the 2022 provincial election.

“The only reason it's not being done is because it’s difficult politically,” Taylor said.

In a statement, York Region director of capital planning and delivery Mike Rabeau said the municipality is disappointed in the province’s move. He said the decision could stymie provincially planned growth.

“Continuous delays approving this project has put the region’s mandate under the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe in jeopardy,” Rabeau said.

But he declined to answer if the region could take legal action on the matter.

The Ministry of Natural Resources, Conservation and Parks did not respond before publication.

Taylor said the bill already puts Newmarket in a difficult position for housing due to the delay, whether or not the project gets approval. He said Newmarket has enough capacity for the five or six years, but things beyond that are uncertain.

“We don’t have an eight or nine years, which this could be looking at,” he said.

Taylor added there are stop-gap measures, such as a program for developers to fix pipes and drains to increase sewage capacity.

“We’re turning over every stone. We continue to try to be bullish on supporting growth,” Taylor said. “This Upper York thing is a debacle."