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Hamilton councillors want apology after sewage leak set wetland restoration back years

Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) has extended the deadline for targeted dredging of Chedoke Creek through December 31, 2022. Don Mitchell / Global News Hamilton

Two Hamilton councillors are calling on the city to issue a formal apology to residents for not publicly disclosing a 24-billion litre discharge of sewage into Chedoke Creek over four-plus years.

On Wednesday, Councillors Maureen Wilson and Nrinder Nann — who had previously voted in favour of releasing information on the sewage leak — will present a motion during city council to publicly release “any and all reports” and “issue a formal apology.”

READ MORE: City of Hamilton admits Chedoke Creek was flooded with sewage for 4.5 years

The majority of councillors who opted to keep it under wraps have said that they were following legal advice.

Wilson and Nann, in a joint statement on Friday, said they were bound as councillors during an in-camera session not to divulge what was said about the leak.

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“We have struggled with whether we ought to have violated the rules of procedural confidence against releasing this information to the public.”

The pair are also that staff report back on any health-related and environmental impacts.

On Wednesday, the city admitted a bypass gate in a sewer overflow tank that should have been closed, was left open in January 2014 and leaked a combination of stormwater runoff and sanitary sewage into Chedoke Creek until July 2018.

READ MORE: Hamilton’s public works GM says ‘glitch’ caused Chedoke Creek sewage spill

Since the discovery, the city says it’s been working with the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to remediate the creek and the Cootes Paradise wetland.

Although the city said in its statement it has completed surface cleaning and the removal “floatable material,” the head of natural lands for the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) says the spill has still set back the effort to clean up the wetland — by years.

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Tys Theijsmeijer, part of the group tasked with managing Cootes Paradise which Chedoke Creek flows into, says the spill essentially “undid” years of restoration efforts of the 600-hectare wildlife sanctuary which is also a fish nursery for Lake Ontario.

“The marsh looks like it had an eraser go over it and all that recovery was just shut right down,” said Theijsmeijer. “You’re kind of back to ground zero.”

Theijsmeijer says the RBG began to be suspicious in April 2018 when the waterway seemed to “smell a little bit” more than it usually does.

READ MORE: Adverse health affects from Hamilton demolition dust cloud ‘unlikely’: city

A boat trip as far up the creek as Theijsmeijer could go did not reveal the issue since the creek disappears under Highway 403.

At that point, the RBG reached out to the city, according to Theijsmeijer, and sent in photos  alerting city staff that something was “definitely not right.”

The RBG says it has not yet determined what damage the leak has done to the wetland. Theijsmeijer says that’s the next step in the recovery process to figure out what aquatic plants, insects, and fish have been affected.

He also says infrastructure money will be needed but just as important is the Ministry of the Environment’s report from it’s yet to be completed investigation.

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“So this is going to yield important information on how to fully recover the water in Chedoke Creek.”

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Catherine McKenna out as environment minister, Wilkinson takes over – Nov 20, 2019

 

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