Tech & Science

City of Hamilton pleads guilty to provincial charges for 4-year sewage spill into creek

Hamilton, Ontario, is responsible for 24 billion liters of sewage and stormwater spilled into Chedok Creek over four years.

The city pleaded guilty in an Ontario court on Thursday and will pay a $2.1 million fine and other incidental costs for a drain that began when the gate of a combined sewage overflow (CSO) tank was left partially open in 2014.

Public Works Director Carlyle Khan said the decision not to take the matter to court was made after city and state attorneys suggested it was not in the public’s best interest to bring the matter to court.

“Our lawyer went back to the city council and explained the incident and our situation,” Khan explained. “I think both lawyers (lawyers) have agreed that this is ultimately in the public’s best interest.”

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With about $364,500 going to the Royal Botanic Gardens, plus $525,000 in victim fines, the city actually paid nearly $3 million.

The charges were filed in December 2020, about two weeks after Hamilton staff requested more time to respond to state cleanup orders for Chedok Creek and Coutts Paradise.

The state order called for remedial action after experts argued that water quality continued to deteriorate or could worsen due to the continued release of pollutants into waterways.

Part of the state order included a “spot dredging” to unclog the waterway and remove approximately 64,000 gallons of suspended solids from the surface of the creek.

A third-party contractor dropped a hydraulic dredger into the creek in mid-July for its cleanup, which was expected to take three and a half months to complete.

Water Commissioner Nick Winters said the project could be completed ahead of schedule and meet the Oct. 31 deadline.

Agreed statement of fact states that the complaint was caused by an investigation that uncovered a fraudulently opened gate

In an agreed statement of fact, the MECP and the city characterized the “largest wetlands at the western end of Hamilton Harbor” as a significant area for migratory birds and significant fish habitat with a history of “poor water quality”.

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However, sampling from “various institutions” in spring 2018 showed worsening water quality, especially levels of E.coli.

The MECP said it would initiate a dialogue with the city to determine the cause of any “direct public complaints” about sewage-like odors that have “become particularly bad.”

In May 2018, a consultant inspected an “enclosed space walkthrough” of the city’s twin-box culvert and later reported that pipes were discharging “sewy, murky water” into a stream.

The flow will be stopped by city officials and then reported to the MECP.

Further investigation revealed that the main/King CSO station inflow well overflow gate had been set to a 5% open position in late January 2014 when it should have been fully closed.

The following February, an official city process control document was discovered stating that the station’s gates should be open by 5 percent.

An undetected error, according to a joint statement.

Additional combined sewage and stormwater discharges were also discovered as a result of the accumulation of sewage that was thought to bypass the Main/King CSO and be taken to the Woodward water station for treatment, due to an “inoperable” gate.

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The CSO flooded for over 40 days, with an estimated 24 billion liters flowing into Cheddok Creek.

Winter could not explain the existence of a document that falsely instructed staff to keep the CSO’s gate open.

He said there were “challenges” to survey the people involved during the time the plan was developed.

“When people physically observe what’s going on in the field, and they’re given corroborating information, they compare it to what’s supposed to be happening, and if the two are consistent, they’re not going to see anything that shouldn’t be happening,” he says.

Incumbent mayor says environmental failures cause ‘too much secrecy’

In a statement, Mayor Andrea Horwath said he was “encouraged” by the city’s guilty plea and apology to Hamilton residents, which described the incident as a “grave breach of environmental stewardship and public trust.”

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“In this regard, the city failed to fulfill its obligations to Hamilton residents, both in protecting the natural environment and in responding to the ensuing circumstances,” Horwath said.

“As we have said before, there was too much secrecy in this case and not enough disclosure.”

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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