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York Region remains committed to controversial sewage plant

Upper York Sewage Solution proposed for Lake Simcoe was vetted by council for inclusion in a water and wastewater plan update
2022-05-20 - Upper York - JQ
York Region council stood by including the Upper York Sewage Solutions in a 2022 water and wastewater update.

York Region is formally standing by the Upper York Sewage Solution and two expansions of it, though councillors recognize the challenges of making it happen.

Regional council voted 8-3 on May 19 to approve including it in the 2022 update to the water and wastewater master plan. The plan estimates the plant on Lake Simcoe would be complete by 2029, with staff indicating future expansions by 2041 and 2051 are also now needed based on projected growth.

“While not yet approved, the Upper York Sewage project continues to be a key part of the servicing in East Gwillimbury and a portion of Newmarket,” infrastructure asset management director Wendy Kemp told council.

The plant has remained in limbo for years, with consecutive provincial governments failing to decide on approving its environmental assessment. The province has undertaken another review, with a panel convened to examine the project that has garnered concern from environmental groups and the Chippewas of Georgina Island.

The wastewater plan outlined projects to come within the next 30 years to service York Region’s expected growth from 1.2 million to 2.02 million people. The plan, tentatively approved by council, outlines hundreds of millions in sewer and plant expansions to come on both the north and south ends of the region to ensure there is enough servicing capacity for the growth.

As for Upper York, Kemp said given the region’s decision to open more of East Gwillimbury’s agricultural or “whitebelt” lands for development, two expansions of the Upper York are now expected to be needed within the 30-year window of the plan to keep up with servicing needs. The second expansion was previously to be after 2051.

“It does introduce some uncertainty in obtaining provincial approvals in a timely manner,” Kemp said, noting the province’s years of delay in approving the initial construction plans. “It will be challenging to achieve two expansions of the facility by 2051, and that will be subject to further studies and approvals.”

York Region has said the plant would be state-of-the-art, with offsets to ensure it does not impact the lake. But environmental groups, area residents and the Town of Georgina have remained concerned about possible damage to the watershed.

Resident Joe Goode presented about the “long-term cumulative effects” on the lake and the Chippewas of Georgina Island remaining opposition to it.

“Death by a thousand cuts,” Goode said, adding more road salt in the watershed due to sprawl is also an issue. “Moving forward with this plan, through deposition of waste effluent into Lake Simcoe, (detracts) from the Indigenous interest and treaty rights, and should not move forward.” 

Chairman Wayne Emmerson said that should mean Goode and other advocates are just as opposed to other community plans to have sewage go into the lake in the future.

“I assume you’ll be objecting to Bradford, Innisfil, Barrie and Orillia plants that are going in over the next decade,” he said. 

Georgina Mayor Margaret Quirk, Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Ian Lovatt, and Georgina Regional Councillor Robert Grossi voted against the proposal. Newmarket Mayor John Taylor and Deputy Mayor Tom Vegh were not present for the meeting, but Taylor has previously spoken out in favour of the plant.

The province has not committed direction, though has floated an alternative of upgrading an existing plant in Pickering.

Newmarket-Aurora provincial election candidates were divided on the proposal at a May 19 debate; Newmarket-Aurora Green and New Blue candidates indicated opposition to Upper York, while NDP and Liberals indicated support.

The plan update will still require final approval at a future council meeting.