Hamilton mayor and council release apology, reports on Chedoke Creek sewage leak
Council has released 10 'consultant reports'
Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Hamilton's city council have issued a formal apology to residents for failing to publicly disclose the magnitude of the spill of untreated sewage and storm water runoff into Chedoke Creek, despite council having known since 2018.
In a media release, the city apologized for "for the failure to publicly disclose the volume and duration of the discharge of storm water runoff and sanitary sewage."
Council has also directed city staff to release 10 consultant reports on the leak, which have been posted on the city's website. They were released, the city says, "in an effort to begin rebuilding the public's trust."
There are other reports not being released and Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson said that those reports are protected by solicitor client privilege and being withheld so as not to affect the ongoing investigation by The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
Council debated Wilson's motion to apologize to residents and publicize the reports Wednesday night, and released its decision at around 3:20 a.m. after four hours of in-camera discussion.
The reports include information on inspections that found evidence of wastewater in the creek and comments on the leak's magnitude and includes details on the potential impact to Chedoke Creek's natural environment and plans for remediation. Inspections of the other combined sewage facilities and updates to facility drawings and plans were also included.
In January 2014, a bypass gate at a facility that houses Hamilton's largest combined sewage tank was left partially opened and allowed 24 billion litres of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff to enter Chedoke Creek over four years.
Councillors say they were following legal advice when they kept the extent of the leak a secret. Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla previously told CBC that there was "no secret" and that it was a "delay in information in order to follow due diligence to protect the taxpayers."
Ward 12 Coun. Lloyd Ferguson also referenced the ministry's investigation as a reason why the city didn't tell the public .
"It's a very common practice that within the city … we never talk about issues that are under investigation because things can change," he said. "We don't have the conclusions yet, so we simply don't talk about it."
The apology also noted a number of other actions it having staff undertake, including that public health look into health-related incidents associated with exposure to the water in Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise. Public health will also review hospital and clinic data since January 2014 for any cases that could have been due to bacterial contamination related to the sewage and runoff released into the creek.
City staff will be directed to compile and release an "inventory and summary" of all water samples collected by the city from January 2014 — the start of the leak — to now, and share this with the Hamilton Conservation Authority and Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
The city is also being asked to seek reconciliation with Indigenous water walkers, who raised their concerns about waste in Hamilton Harbour and Cootes Paradise.
Staff will create a report detailing when council and the mayor found out about the leak and how they became aware. They'll also have to report back on the environmental impacts.
Council also budgeted for the addition of four staff members to physically inspect and maintain parts of Hamilton's water infrastructure, and a technologist to test the water quality.
Right now, the machinery that opens and closes the bypass gate to Chedoke Creek is locked up with a sign saying "danger."
In the past 30 years, the city has built nine combined sewage overflow facilities "that can store 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth" of sewage and storm water during storms.
On a question and answer page for Chedoke Creek on its website, the city lists four bullets on what it has done since the spill, including inspecting facilities, revising procedures in case of a spill, and retaining an external consultant to review the environmental impacts.
The city also said it is committed to keeping warning signs already present at Chedoke Creek, and which caution people against using the waterway, in place indefinitely.
In its release, the city said it has launched a system, which posts notifications on the city's website if there is a bypass at the treatment site or at 14 of the combined sewer overflow tanks.
With files from Dan Taekema