By Mike Anderson

Innisfil Council is the latest council around the Lake Simcoe watershed to pass a motion urging York Region and the province to move forward with the proposed Holland Marsh phosphorus recycling facility, which would significantly reduce phosphorus runoff – upwards of 40 per cent – from the Holland Marsh into the Holland River and Lake Simcoe. 

The Region argues the $40-million project is tied to the proposed Upper York Sewage Solutions (UYSS) and cannot move forward until the province approves the UYSS EA, which it has paused indefinitely. 

However, there has been growing support around the lake for moving ahead with the project, independent of the UYSS. 

“This project will provide a great benefit to all of us around Lake Simcoe,” said Councillor Rob Nicol during the Innisfil Council session on Sept 22. 

“This phosphorus recycling facility should be treated as a separate project from the overall Upper York Sewage scheme, which is paused. It would be a shame if that meant the phosphorus recycling facility was paused indefinitely too because we need this project to deliver the benefits we know are necessary for the lake.” 

Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin also agreed.

“I support this. This is a no-brainer…this is gathering a lot of momentum, and now is a good time,” she said. 

“Phosphorus levels are the main concern. This facility will work tremendously, and the impact will be astronomical. It will reduce a lot of algae in the summer. I am glad we are endorsing this,” added Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson. 

Innisfil’s motion follows similar motions passed in Bradford West Gwillimbury and Georgina. And additional motions are coming in East Gwillimbury and Brock Township. 

According to Bradford Councillor Jonathan Scott and Georgina Councillor Dave Neeson, who cosponsored a joint motion that passed unanimously in their respective councils, there is broad support for the project from residents and stakeholders, including the Holland Marsh Grower’s Association, Lake Simcoe Watch and the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. 

“No party or politician has a monopoly on caring for the lake,” Neeson said. 

“This project is ready to move forward, we need it to move forward. It should not fall victim to broader disputes between the Region and the province.”

The Post asked the Region to comment on the motions and its decision to delay the Holland Marsh facility. 

While Mike Rabeau, Director, Capital Planning and Delivery for Environmental Services, acknowledges that UYSS and the Holland Marsh facility are distinctly different projects, he says the Region’s position remains unchanged.

“The environmental assessment for the Holland Marsh phosphorus reduction facility is contingent on the UYSS Individual Environmental Assessment (IEA) approval and cannot begin until that occurs,” he said in an email to The Post. 

“The only viable funding source the Region has for the Holland Marsh project is through the UYSS project; the funding source is the connection between the two projects.”

“The Regional Municipality of York is extremely confident the preferred solution recommended in the UYSS IEA is the superior alternative to service this area and will provide a lasting benefit to Lake Simcoe and the Lake Simcoe watershed; we continue to advocate for the Ontario government to advance the UYSS IEA.” 

Regional Coun. Rob Grossi, a longtime opponent of the UYSS, doesn’t understand why the two projects should be connected, financially or otherwise. 

“Why is the Region of York deciding on this facility? It’s a separate issue. Whatever you can do to restrict the flow of phosphorus into Lake Simcoe out of the Holland River, you should do it,” he said. 

“If it’s going to be tied to UYSS, then that’s a decision that hasn’t been made by an elected council. It’s more of a bureaucratic decision.”

“There has never been a motion or a staff report that indicated the Region was considering pulling the funding,” he noted. 

“When you have a facility, like a phosphorus reduction plant, for the Holland river, it’s important for someone to be the lead and make it happen. The Region was the lead. But, what happens is politics gets in the way.”