A Hamilton sewage pipe has been draining directly into Hamilton Harbour since 1996.
The leak was not discovered until this morning, the City of Hamilton revealed today in a hastily called press conference.
“This morning while staff were reviewing CCTV files, closed circuit TV files, they saw something that didn’t quite make sense,” says General Manager of Public Works Carlyle Khan. The CCTV files were from 2013.
Staff were reviewing records in preparation for upcoming work in the area.
Khan says Hamilton Water staff went out to the site in the area of Burlington Street and Wentworth Avenue North to inspect.
“What they observed there once they popped the manhole was that there was a combined sewer spilling into a storm sewer,” Khan says.
Hamilton Water Director Nick Winters says the wastewater from approximately 50 homes in the area flowed directly into Hamilton Harbour during the past 26 years.
The City is working on calculating an estimated range for the amount of wastewater that flowed directly into the harbour.
“I would expect that it’s going to be significantly less than the Chedoke Creek spill,” Winters says, adding it will be a “big number” because it is a 26-year spill.
Winters says a preliminary investigation indicates the pipe was incorrectly designed by a consultant when it was installed in 1996. “It appears that the consultant involved in that work was under the impression that all of the sewers in that area were storm sewers, and they designed a direct connection to a box culvert that leads up to Hamilton harbour.”
City crews are on site investigating, and a vacuum truck is capturing all wastewater to stop the leak.
“Residents in the area can expect to see a high level activity in that location over the next few days with trucks and other vehicles that staff work to mitigate the current leak and begin work to make the necessary repairs.”
Winters says the outflow pipe drains directly into the Harbour, it is always submerged underwater, and the amount of wastewater meant it was not detectable at the site.
“The situation that we’re describing to you today is something that shouldn’t have happened,” Winters says. “It’s my sincere hope that a situation like this is an anomaly.”
The City Manager’s Office Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives, Matthew Grant did not make City Manager Janette Smith, former Interim City Manager Mike Zegarac, nor City Auditor Charlies Brown available for comment. City Manager Smith was in her office, unwilling to answer any questions.
Khan began working for the City of Hamilton on May 30, 2022. Winters became Acting Director of Water in late September 2021.
Asked how many times the City’s auditors have conducted reviews of wastewater pipe processes and related files during the past 26 years, the CMO declined to provide an answer.
Asked how this was missed in 2018 when then Interim City Manager Mike Zegarac began secret reviews during the Cootes leak coverup, an answer was not provided.
City Manager Janette Smith was in City Hall. She is unwilling to answer questions regarding her review of wastewater management in 2019. Smith committed to reviewing the system after a whistleblower revealed the Cootes coverup. A cover-up she continued as City Manager.
Winters and Khan briefed Mayor Andrea Horwath around 3:30 pm today. Following this briefing, the Mayor began planning a press conference, with City staff doing their press conference first.
“Like all Hamiltonians, I’m very concerned about the news that was provided today,” the Mayor stated in a separate press conference following the City Manager’s Office briefing.
“What I want to see, what we need to see as Hamiltonians, is some evidence as to how this occurred, and was able to go undetected for this length of time.”
Horwath says her response today is part of the change she promised during the campaign.
“I think that what happened today is, is evidence of the fact that if these kinds of situations occur, we are going to be as quickly as possible, informing the public and being committed to that transparency.”
Horwath says she will ensure the public is informed as the City responds to the leak and the City’s internal auditor investigations, with “any findings made being made public as soon as possible.”
Mayor Horwath says she will, as much as possible, limit the use of in-camera sessions as Council discusses this matter to only that needed for legal advice and personnel matters. It is not just “legal risk,” Horwath says Council should be concerned about.
“It’s also the risk of losing the confidence of the people in the city of Hamilton.”
Audio Files of Press Conferences
City Manager’s Office press conference, that began around 4:40 pm.
Mayor Andrea Horwath’s press conference, that began around 5:15 pm.
Note: The City only gave 22 minutes notice of the press conference. The audio is recorded on a smartphone in the room.
Production Details v. 1.0.0 Originally published: November 22, 2022 Last edited: November 22, 2022 Author: Joey Coleman Edit Record v. 1.0.0 original version