Skip to content

York Region reacts with 'displeasure and disappointment' to provincial decision to further delay sewage solution

The provincial government has said it will not provide a solution for Newmarket and York Region’s sewage capacity problems until after the 2022 election
2021-10-08-Upper York delay-JQ
Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks David Piccini addressed York Region's sewage problems Oct. 7.

The provincial government has said it will not provide a solution for Newmarket and York Region’s sewage capacity problems until after the 2022 election.

The York Region Wastewater Act, which came to debate in the provincial legislature this week, states the minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks will not come to a decision on the 2014 environmental assessment for Upper York Sewage Solutions, York’s longtime sewage plant proposal near Lake Simcoe, and halts any regional action on it. The project aims to address capacity issues expected with the region’s continued growth.

York Region Chairman and CEO Wayne Emmerson said that the ministry sent a letter to the region and its northern municipalities stating no resolution would come until after the provincial June 2022 election.

“Which does cause us a lot of issues,” Emmerson said. “I did call the minister personally and explained our displeasure and disappointment, and told him that if you’re going to do this to York Region, you better do it to all of them — everyone around Lake Simcoe (who is developing).”

Successive governments have stalled on the environmental assessment needed for the massive $715-million facility that is crucial for growth in Newmarket, East Gwillimbury and Aurora.

The proposed plant has come under criticism with environmental groups, the Town of Georgina and the Chippewas of Georgina Island opposing it out of concern for the environmental impact of sewage coming into Lake Simcoe. York Region has argued the plant would be state-of-the-art, filtering and offsetting the impact of that sewage.

The provincial government is instead planning to convene an expert panel to review the issue further before providing advice. Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks David Piccini said at an Oct. 7 media conference that the panel would have five members and be given a year to fulfill its mandate.

“They’re going to assess. They have expertise in wastewater, they have expertise in land use planning, and we’re giving them a 12-month window,” he said. “York Region is seeing unprecedented growth, and we understand the need to move quickly.”

York Region is projected to gain approximately 900,000 people, growing to a population of 2.02 million, over the next 30 years. It is currently planning how to manage and allocate that growth. But sewage capacity in Newmarket and its neighbours is expected to run out in about five or six years, well before Upper York could be completed, given the years it will take to build after approval.

Ontario has proposed an alternative solution to expand sewage flow to an existing plant in Pickering, but that has had no formal plan and has attracted some local opposition in Durham Region.

The bill came under government opposition scrutiny for the first time in the Legislature, with NDP MPPs highlighting the challenges of the situation but questioning the government’s plans. 

“The province has trust issues with this government, so prove to us that not everything is based on who you play golf with. You’ve got a chance here with this expert panel. Who are you going to pick?” Oshawa NDP MP Jennifer French said.

French also criticized a clause in the bill that states no legal action shall come against the government relating to the act as “heavy-handed.”

Speaking for the government, Haldimand-Norfolk Conservative MPP Toby Barrett said Lake Simcoe is an important body of water threatened by Upper York and other sources of sediment and nutrients.

“It’s become a bit of a canary in the coal mine,” Barret said. “It’s a pilot project, if you will, to address issues of what I consider overpopulation and pollution. Let’s see what the expert panel can come up with to weave its way through the myriad of issues. That’s why the bill is so important.”