Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday November 26, 2019
Hamilton city council, staff have kept a 24-billion litre sewage spill secret
A confidential city report shows councillors have known since January that 24 billion litres of untreated sewage escaped undetected over a four-year period from a massive sewer overflow tank into Chedoke Creek, which runs along Highway 403 into Cootes Paradise.
The watery sewage — enough to fill 10,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, or an area of 12 square kilometres to a depth of two metres — seeped out of the tank because a gate had been left partially open for more than four years.
The confidential report to council on Jan. 16, along with a second one on Sept. 4, show city staff have been recommending that details of the spill be kept secret from the public as long as possible because of potential legal action the city could face.
The two reports, obtained by The Hamilton Spectator, state Ontario’s environment ministry is investigating the massive spill, which could lead to charges.
Neither the remediation work or any fine levied would be covered by the city’s insurance, according to the reports.
The Spectator informed the city it had obtained two confidential reports and submitted a number of questions Wednesday morning to councillor Lloyd Ferguson, chair of the public works committee. Late Wednesday morning, council went in camera to discuss The Spectator’s questions.
Several councillors, including Ferguson, declined to comment when they emerged from the in-camera session.
About an hour later, in response to The Spectator’s questions, the city put out a press release acknowledging publicly for the first time that approximately 24 billion litres of watery sewage had been discharged because a gate at the King Street West tank had been left partially open for 4.5 years.
“Hamilton city council takes this matter very seriously and today is sharing additional information that has become available based on the city’s investigations,” the press release stated.
Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, said the long-standing discharge from the overflow tank “is shocking.”
“That’s a brutal impact on Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour,” said Lukasik. “Those (overflow) tanks are just a Band-Aid solution.”
“The City of Hamilton better have a good plan going forward to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she added.
The two confidential reports were prepared jointly by the city’s public works department and the legal and risk management services division of the corporate services department.
The reports state the city was unaware that a bypass gate at the King Street West overflow tank across from the Cathedral of Christ the King had been left partially open from Jan. 28, 2014, until July 18, 2018, allowing untreated sewage to flow into the creek for 1,633 days.
During heavy rainfall, a combined sewer overflow tank captures a mix of rainwater and sewage that would previously have flowed untreated into Cootes Paradise, the harbour or the lake. Once the wet weather subsides, the overflow can be pumped from the tank to the main sewage treatment plant at Woodward Avenue. (Hamilton Spectator)