Province delayed ruling on controversial Upper York Sewage Solutions plant for commission, but report may make no direct recommendations
Answers on the fate of Newmarket’s favorite sewer capacity solution may be coming soon, but the final decision remains unknown.
York Region’s favorite Upper York Sewage Solutions plant on Lake Simcoe is stuck in limbo, now awaiting a report from an advisory committee established in 2021 before the province decides on it. The plant is intended to accommodate future growth in Newmarket and northern York Region.
Mayor John Taylor told Newmarket Council he received an update last week and expects the report to come out around October.
“They are starting to get closer to the conclusion of their work. They did an incredible amount of consultation,” Taylor said. “It’s good to see whatever direction is going to happen, that it’s at least still moving.”
York Region is running out of sewer capacity to meet growth projections in its northern end, including Newmarket and East Gwillimbury. Although it tried to increase its capacity in other ways, it planned for years for a new sewage treatment plant on Lake Simcoe. But the province has delayed approving the environmental assessment of the proposal, with fierce opposition from Indigenous communities and conservationists concerned about how the plant could impact Lake Simcoe.
Instead, the province put in place legislation last year for a committee to review the case, to the objection of Taylor and York Region, concerned about the further delay in a decision. The province has already proposed an alternative line expansion at an existing Duffin Creek plant.
Part of the committee’s mandate is to explore alternatives and the viability of different options. But Taylor said an actual recommendation on one solution or another may not come.
“They will provide information to the government, and that information will look at various options and the pros and cons,” he said. “But I believe there will be no direct recommendations.”
The Department of Environment, Conservation and Parks said panel members are not available for an interview but could answer questions provided. In response to questions from NewmarketToday, department spokesperson Lindsay Davidson did not directly answer whether the panel will provide a final recommendation one way or another.
“Since January 2022, the expert panel has compiled relevant technical data and held dozens of meetings with a wide range of stakeholders and Indigenous communities,” Davidson said. “The committee is expected to provide advice to government on sewage service alternatives for York Region later this fall.”
NewmarketToday asked how long after the report arrives the government might take to decide on Upper York, to which Davidson did not respond.
The issue remains controversial, with York Region saying the plant would be state-of-the-art and have offsets to avoid any impact on the lake, but groups fear it will have a long-term impact.
York Region Council opted to retain Upper York’s sewer solutions in its water and wastewater master plan update approved in May, despite uncertainty over whether it will get provincial approval. The plan estimates that Upper York could be completed by 2029. Further expansions are needed in 2041 and 2051 to accommodate projected growth.
“We know this is a huge issue for North and Central York Region in terms of making sure we can provide housing options,” Taylor said.