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Province makes 'long long overdue' decision on York sewage solution

After 8-year wait, province turns down York Region's preferred option to instead expand Durham's Duffin Creek treatment plant, which discharges into Lake Ontario
2022-05-20 - Upper York - JQ

The province is formally opting against York Region’s plans for a sewage solution discharging into Lake Simcoe despite millions of dollars and seven years of regional efforts to get it approved.

Ontario announced today that it would instead be introducing legislation to expand the existing plant at Duffin Creek co-owned by York Region and Durham Region, discharging into Lake Ontario. This will accommodate the sewage capacity the region needs to grow, but was not the Upper York Sewage Solution most desired by York Region.

Newmarket Mayor John Taylor has been a proponent of the Upper York. But after years of waiting, he said it is positive the province is coming to a decision, though more details on the path forward are needed.

“Any decision is better than no decision,” Taylor said. “If we’re going to meet the growing demands, the need for housing options … this will start that process. It’s long, long overdue.

York Region has awaited an answer to its Upper York Sewage Solutions proposal since 2014, when it completed an environmental assessment, spending an estimated $100 million toward it. The plan would involve a new facility in the area to accommodate regional growth, with the region maintaining that technology would offset any environmental impact. It has stuck by the solution since then, despite concerns from Indigenous communities and environmentalists worried about the impact on Lake Simcoe. 

York Region director of corporate communications Patrick Casey said they would work with the province and Durham Region on the new direction.

"While relieved with a long-awaited decision on servicing the future growth of York Region, we will continue to work with both the province and Durham Region to better understand the provincially recommended solution," Casey said. 

The decision comes one year after the formation of a York Region Wastewater Advisory Panel, assigned by the province to consider options for the region’s wastewater. The panel has now published a report backing the Duffin Creek option.

In its report, the panel said expanding York-Durham sewage solution plant would satisfy the sewage needs, be cheaper, and fit in with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

In its analysis of the Upper York Sewage Solution option, the panel said it would not meet the requirements of the act and the Chippewas of Georgina Island continue to oppose it. It also said the greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly larger than the Duffin Creek option.

“The Duffin Creek treatment facility is one of the best performing wastewater facilities in the province,” Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks David Piccini said in a news release, adding that the facility “ensures the protection, enjoyment and welfare of Lake Ontario, shoreline communities and nearshore areas.”

Despite the uncertainty, the region kept the Upper York Sewage Solutions in its latest water and wastewater plan. It has also counted on the solution going forward in its new official plan to accommodate the growth to come.

Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition executive director Claire Malcolmson welcomed the announcement. She expressed appreciation for the advisory panel for considering the environment.

"The lake has limits to growth, and they're supported by scientists," she said. "The panel has recognized that those limits should be respected."

She further said the region has put itself in a poor position by insisting on the Upper York Sewage Solution that would conflict with the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.

“It is too bad York Region has had to wait to have some of this development in Newmarket serviced,” she said. “But if they had not entertained this new idea, which had basically just been made illegal through the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, then they wouldn’t have anything to complain about."

Taylor said more technical details are needed on the plans for expanding the Duffin Creek plant. He said the region may not be impacted too much in terms of planning if the timeline and cost can be similar to what Upper York may have been.

"A lot of that is yet to be understood," he said.

The Duffin Creek plant option is not without some opposition. Although officials maintain treatment ensures the discharge is clean, some of the public have protested the idea of more sewage going through the plant.

Durham Region chair and CEO John Henry said the municipality needs more time to consider to respond to the announcement. 

"We will be reviewing it in the coming days and will provide comment once we understand the technical details and implications for Durham residents," Henry said in a news release.

The province’s news release does not directly mention the Upper York Sewage Solution but said the Duffin Creek plant expansion is “the most effective option available.”