Environment minister says little on potential $50M probe of Hamilton, Ont., sewer system

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

Ontario’s environment minister revealed little on whether the province will or won’t force Hamilton, Ont., to follow orders from the provincial environment ministry and conduct a costly CCTV camera inspection of the city’s entire sewer system.

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) issued the original order in November 2022, “requiring” the City of Hamilton to undertake an audit of its sewage infrastructure following discovery of a leak dumping sewage into Hamilton Harbour over 26 years from homes near Burlington and Wentworth streets.

In response to questions at a press conference in Hamilton Thursday, Environment Minister David Piccini indicated that generally the province is working with municipalities across Ontario to rectify “aging infrastructure” and that his department has spoken “at length” with city politicians and staff.

“When Mayor (Andrea) Horwath was elected, it was a marked change from my vantage point, a commitment to transparency and really to working with the community, working with government,” Piccini said.

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A third-party report by engineering firm Stantec, commissioned by the city in response to the ministry’s orders, suggests city-wide CCTV inspections of the city’s sewers would “not be practical” and would cost at least $36.6 million. The report said the costs could run to $50 million after accounting for weather, traffic, and accessibility or visibility issues.

“The program would be expected to take over 10 years using two CCTV crews in tandem and require the hiring of four additional city staff members (at an estimated city resourcing cost upwards of $3.7M)” the study said.

The report went on to say in-pipe camera inspections likely don’t provide benefit in identifying spills or unauthorized discharges, as the vast majority of problems would occur in “separated areas” that would not be seen by cameras.

The report instead recommended expanding current inspection efforts, which are targeting high-risk areas through a five-year pilot program that will cost an estimated $600,000 annually.

The MECP required Hamilton to undertake an audit of its 2,100-kilometre sewage infrastructure after Piccini conveyed his “anger” about the discovery of the sewage leaks to the legislature at Queen’s Park, characterizing the find as “absolutely unacceptable.”

Hamilton Water expects to submit it’s plans for an updated audit as per the province’s requirements by the end of June.

Staff are targeting a September public works committee meeting to present a recommendation report to councillors.

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