Hamilton says hole ‘made purposefully’ 26 years ago in sewer drained wastewater into harbour

Crews working on a combined sewer at Burlington St. and Wentworth St. North in Nov. 2022. The area is where wastewater has been emptying into Hamilton harbour from a hole since 1996. Global News

Hamilton’s public works department says it expects a “big number” when it’s finally figured out how many litres of combined wastewater and sewage leaked over 26 years into the harbour via an area of the city’s north end.

City staff revealed on Tuesday the spillage has been happening near Burlington Street and Wentworth Street through a hole in a combined sewer pipe “made purposefully” in 1996.

Carlyle Khan, general manager of Public Works said the hole was discovered via a review of closed circuit TV (CCTV) files made by a contractor in 2013 as part of a broader inspection program and filed in a city archive.

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“While staff were reviewing CCTV files … they saw something that didn’t quite make sense that then ensued … a full investigation,” Khan explained.

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“They went out to the field and what they observed there once they popped the manhole was … a combined sewer spilling into a storm sewer.”

Nick Winters, director of Hamilton Water, said steps have been taken to mitigate the flow using a vacuum truck now on site removing the combined sewage.

He said the maintenance will continue in the area until “a longer term fix” can be put in place.

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“Residents in the area can expect to see a high level of activity in that location over the next few days, with trucks and other vehicles as staff work to mitigate the current leak and begin work to make the necessary repairs,” Winters said.

It’s believed 50 properties were connected to lines that contributed to the combined spill.

Winters admitted the leak “shouldn’t have happened” and expects the impact to be “significantly less” than the 24 billion litres spilled from a combined sewer overflow (CSO) tank between 2014 and 2018.

“What we do know is that from drawing records we were able to recover from 1996, it looks like that there was a planned job at this site to cut a hole in a combined sewer, creating and discharge directly into a storm sewer system,” Winters told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.

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The city notified the Ministry of the Environment of their circumstances just after noon on Tuesday.

Winters says samples of the water have been collected from the location and expects some preliminary results Wednesday on what leaked into the harbour and potential impact to the environment.

More comprehensive data is expected next week.

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“We do need to do some math in the background and we’re working on the best way to calculate how much sewage we think made its way into the storm sewer at this location,” Winters explained.

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The city says there will be traffic disruptions for residents and businesses in the area due a construction crew on site hoping to make a correction to the sewer discharging water.

Mayor Andrea Horwath said she was “very, very troubled” by the news and has asked the city auditor to have “a look at what’s happened” and provide a full public report.

Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, praised the “swift, public disclosure of the find” by the city.

She expects “a struggle” for city staff to determine long-term impacts of the spill since it will be “challenging to assess” due to the nature of the issue.

“I think one of the challenges with this location on Wentworth is that those discharge points … are not publicly accessible and that can only lead further to problems going undetected,” Lukasik told Good Morning Hamilton.

The head of the city’s water says the extent of a potential cleanup has not yet been ascertained but suspects “dilution in this system” will probably prevent the accumulation of material that could be cleaned up.


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