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City faces fine for 2019 raw sewage spills into Eramosa River

Two incidents saw more than 4.4 million litres discharged into the river
City crews work on a sewage spill into the Eramosa River in Februrary of 2019. Anam Khan/GuelphToday file photo

Nearly 4.5 million litres of raw sewage spilled into the Eramosa River during two incidents in 2019. Now the City of Guelph and a construction contractor face millions of dollars in potential fines.

Along with contractor Varcon Construction, the city is charged with two counts of causing or permitting a discharge of material that may impair the quality of water, contrary to the Ontario Water Resources Act.

Charges were laid on July 21 of this year and with a first appearance in Provincial Offences court slated for this coming Tuesday, court documents show.

“The city has not yet received a complete copy of the disclosure materials or completed its full investigation,” said Terry Gayman, the city’s general manager of engineering and transportation services, in an email. “The city can not comment further until it receives the specific details and has had an opportunity to review them and complete its investigation.”

Efforts to reach Varcon for comment were not immediately successful.

On Feb. 17, 2019 a man walking his dog noticed a large overflow of sewage along the Royal Recreation Trail in York Road Park where the city was installing a new sewer line.

That spill, said a Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks spokesperson at the time, sent 4.4 million litres of untreated sewage into the nearby river during a three-hour period.

A second smaller spill at the park three days later sent 25,000 litres of untreated sewage into the river.

Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler previously said neither spill had any impact on Guelph’s drinking water and the ministry "did not observe any distressed or dead fish downstream of the spill location."

All downstream users were notified of the spill and any intakes were temporarily closed where necessary to prevent any potential impact to drinking water, Wheeler said.

Under the Ontario Water Resources Act, corporations face a fine of between $25,000 and $6 million upon first conviction. A second conviction comes with a fine between $50,000 and $10 million.

"In all cases, it is up to the discretion of the court to determine the fine,” Wheeler previously explained. “The amount of the fine varies depending on which section of which act the charges are under, severity of the event, whether it is an individual or a company that is charged and past compliance history."