The Ontario City of Hamilton has pleaded guilty and been fined $2.1 million by the province for a major stormwater runoff and sanitary sewage discharge into Chedoke Creek that began in 2014 and went unnoticed for four and a half years.
It marks the largest fine ever for a single offence under the Ontario Water Resources Act, as reported by the CBC.
In addition to the fine, Hamilton will pay the Royal Botanical Gardens $364,500 for damages incurred as a result of the discharges, as well as a $525,000 Victim Fine Surcharge for a total of $2.9 million, according to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
The discharge occurred due to a bypass gate unintentionally left open at a combined sewage overflow (CSO) tank. Hamilton officials estimated that approximately 24 billion litres of combined sewage leaked from 2014 to 2018 into Chedoke Creek, which outlets at the south shore of Cootes Paradise Marsh, part of a nature reserve owned and managed by the Royal Botanical Gardens.
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“In this matter, the city failed in its duty to the people of Hamilton, both in protecting our natural environment and in its subsequent handling of the situation. As I’ve said before, there was too much secrecy in this case and not enough disclosure,” announced Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath, in a statement following the city’s guilty plea to the spill charges.
Following the discovery of the extended overflow incident, Hamilton officials significantly delayed sharing their findings with the public until The Hamilton Spectator published a report about the spill event. The lack of transparency led to local media dubbing the incident “Sewergate”.
Just last week, Hamilton began its long-awaited targeted hydraulic dredging of Chedoke Creek to improve its condition. The dredging work is expected to take approximately three-and-a-half months to complete. The work comes as a result of several orders from the province, including offsetting measures for Cootes Paradise. Ministry orders can be viewed here.
The Chedoke Creek saga has been ongoing for years. Soon after the discovery of the problem, Hamilton officials implemented an enhanced public notification protocol for bypasses at its wastewater treatment plant as well as CSO locations. Throughout Hamilton there are 14 monitored CSO outfall locations. The tanks for these locations hold more than 314,000 cubic metres of diluted wastewater.