By Mike Anderson

Bradford Council unanimously passed a motion by Councillor Jonathan Scott on September 7 calling on York Region to move forward with its proposed Holland Marsh Phosphorus Polder Recycling Facility.

The $40-million stormwater treatment plant, which promises to reduce phosphorous runoff from the Holland Marsh into the Holland River and Lake Simcoe by up to 40 per cent, is slated to be built in Bradford West Gwillimbury on the Holland River, with the federal government contributing $16 million towards its construction.

But York Region says it can’t move forward with the project unless the province approves the Upper York Sewage Solution’s (UYSS) Environmental Assessment (EA), which the province has put on hold pending the passage of the York Region Wastewater Act, Bill 306, which calls for an expert advisory panel to review UYSS along with other options to deal with the Region’s future wastewater servicing.

The UYSS, a proposed $715-million sewage treatment plant that would service future growth in Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury, has faced opposition from local environmental groups, the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation (CGIFN) and residents along Lake Simcoe because it could potentially pump up to 40 million litres of treated sewage into the lake daily.

“The Regional Municipality of York has not postponed nor cancelled the Holland Marsh phosphorus reduction facility project,” said Mike Rabeau, Director of Capital Planning and Delivery for Environmental Services for York Region, in an email to The Post.

“The environmental assessment for the Holland Marsh phosphorus reduction facility is contingent on the Upper York Sewage Solutions Environmental Assessment approval and cannot begin until that occurs.”

“We respectfully request the Government withdraw both Bill 306 that is before the Legislature and the proposal posted to establish an Expert Advisory Panel; furthermore, we request the government immediately issue a decision on UYSS EA, following the process laid out in provincial law, a decision for which York Region has been waiting for seven years as of July 25, 2021.”

This stalemate has Councillors Scott and Neeson worried the Holland Marsh stormwater treatment plant, which could reduce phosphorus loads in Lake Simcoe by 2.5 tonnes annually, may be delayed for years and could put federal funding for the project in jeopardy.

“Our motion calls on York Region to move this much-need pollution-reduction project forward independently so we can take meaningful action, at last, to reduce phosphorous in the Holland River and Lake Simcoe, which will protect fish habitats and the health of our watershed,” said Scott in a joint statement with Ward 3 Councillor Dave Neeson, who will introduce the motion at Georgina Council on September 17.

“We are also hopeful that the provincial government will come to the table to help cover the costs of this vital facility, to make real the goals of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.”

“This facility will be a game-changer for the entire Lake Simcoe watershed, and we need it to proceed,” added Neeson.

“A wide variety of Lake Simcoe watershed residents and stakeholder groups are united in supporting our motion, and we hope the region and the province are listening.”

Local environmental groups are among those urging York Region and the province to move forward with the facility.

“This is the largest diversion of phosphorus ever proposed for Lake Simcoe; we have to do it,” said Claire Malcolmson, Exec. Director of Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, in a statement supporting the motion.

“Building this phosphorus recycling plant has got to be the easiest way…to make good on those promises to protect the lake while actually taking a bite out of the lake’s phosphorus loads.”

“We need this Holland Marsh pollution reduction project to proceed,” said Jack Gibbons, Chair, Lake Simcoe Watch, who believes the Region is holding the project hostage to force the province to approve UYSS.

“The Region of York’s refusal to build the Holland Marsh pollution reduction plant unless the provincial government allows it to dump sewage from Aurora, Newmarket and East Gwillimbury into Lake Simcoe is outrageous.”

Gibbons is also calling on York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney to intercede in the dispute.

“Caroline Mulroney must do whatever it takes to make sure that the Holland Marsh pollution reduction facility is built as soon as possible,” he said.

The Post asked the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to comment on Councillor Scott and Neeson’s motion.

However, a spokesperson for MECP says the Region has not communicated with the ministry about the motion, and, at this time, the ministry does not have a position.

Should York Region wait for province to approve UYSS EA, before proceeding with construction of Holland Marsh stormwater project?
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