By Lynda Powless
The Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs’ Council (HCCC) says neither it, or its development department are holding up Hamilton’s dredging work at the city’s sewage soaked Chedoke Creek.
Instead, the HCCC’s development arm, the Haudenosaunee Development Institute, (HDI) says they want to see a “complete” cleanup but the city has been stalling response to their inquiries and media has failed to reach out to the HDI and HCCC for comments.
“ For the sake of clarification HDI is not opposed to the clean up of Chedoke Creek and/or Cootes Paradise,” said Aaron Detlor HDI director and the HCCC’s legal advisor.
“The issue that we have raised with the City of Hamilton, the Province of Ontario and Canada is that the proposed remediation is not actually cleaning up the 24 billion litre sewage spill. Right now the proposed remediation is cleaning up less than one-quarter of the sewage dumped into Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise and is not remediating the waterways in any manner consistent with established harvesting rights that exist over this area.
He says instead of responding to HDI concerns it appears the city is doing “as little as possible” to ensure the cleanup while ignoring Haudenosaunee rights.
“Basically the City of Hamilton is doing as little as possible but trying to make it appear that they are cleaning up the spill but unfortunately the proposed clean-up will not allow any rights and interests to be exercised which means that the City of Hamilton is being given the ability to undertake an on the ground or in the water extinguishment of rights and interests.”
The City of Hamilton allowed 24 billion litres of sewage to spill into the creek over a four-year period.
The Hamilton Spectator exposed the spill in 2019 and the provincial government ordered the city to clean it up, but on March 10 city officials said they won’t likely meet the province’s August 31st deadline.
In addition to placing any missed deadline on the HCCC and HDI for seeking “meaningful engagement’ the city is also saying future equipment failures and “unknowns” are to blame.
“The biggest unknown is how well the hydraulic dredging operations will progress and what equipment challenges might occur,” said Nick Winters, head of Hamilton Water.
Detlor says the City of Hamilton “is justifying the purported clean up with a number of third party contractor reports, however the contractors never contacted HCCC and/or HDI for input or information. We were not allowed to participate in the creation of these reports and we were not given any opportunity to review and comment on the reports that the City of Hamilton and the Province of Ontario is relying on for a non clean up.”
In a statement the HCCC says if it continues the creek will suffer.
“ If the City of Hamilton proceeds on the current approach people will still not be able to harvest, fish or even swim in the water that is protected by the treaty rights of the Haudenosaunee,” the statement reads.
“ This is something that we not are prepared to accept and this is why we have asked HDI to take the necessary steps to ensure that an actual clean up is undertaken which will benefit all people including the residents of the City of Hamilton.”
Detlor has been trying to connect with the city representatives since 2002 and as recently as March 10th 2023.
In an email on March 10 he writes that he’s been working to connect with the city about various aspects of the remediation work, but he’s been kept in the dark.
“The work is proceeding in a manner where the rights and interests of the Haudenosaunee have been ignored to date and specifically the concern that Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise are remediated to an extent inconsistent with the rights and interests of the Haudenosaunee.”
The email continues “We take the position that the failure to properly remediate and thereby respect treaty and other rights is allowing an on-going infringement to continue,” he wrote.
The amendment order, from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), requires the creek dredging to resume as soon as possible this spring, and that the in-water portion of the work be completed by Aug. 31. The city was previously given until the end of December 2023.
On March 9 Hamilton city council voted to appeal the amended provincial order to clean up the creek because it doesn’t think it can meet the “unexpected” deadline.
“[The order] accelerated the timeframe for the performance of operations in Chedoke Creek by four months,” Nick Winters, head of Hamilton Water said during a press conference on March 10. “The city doesn’t believe that the August 31st date will be achievable.”
The city is appealing the order at the Ontario Land Tribunal, but Winters says “it could take up to three months to get a hearing.”
“At the same time, we’re also pursuing dialogue with the province to let them know about the challenges that we anticipate and we are hopeful that one of those avenues is going to result in a date that is more conducive to the city completing that work,” Winters said.
Detlor says doing the work without proper consultation is an “on-going infringement.”
“We have not received anything from TC [Transport Canada] and/or DFO [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] that approximates engagement let alone makes a request to obtain consent as required by the UNDRIP Implementation Act,” he wrote in an email.
On September 30, 2022
Detlor emailed the city detailing the funds needed to engage, including costs for surveys and expert analysis as well as environmental monitors could total $350,000.
The city offered $7,000 capacity funding and environmental monitoring funds with “upset limits,” and according to their “ negotiated Environmental Monitoring Agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.”
Winters said the city wants to remediate the area as necessary and hoped to have it done sooner, but he claimed HDI’s protests last summer and other demands have slowed the work.
“We would have liked to have had that work completed already, but we ran into some unfortunate delays during our attempts to dredge the creek last summer resulting from the attendance at the project site from individuals representing the Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), and that ultimately led to the project being put on hold,” he said.
When an “engagement agreement’ could not be reached Detlor said the city’s refusal to engage with HDI would result in Hamilton taxpayers footing a large bill.
“I am going to be very consistent and vocal to make sure that the people of Hamilton are aware that it is you (Cari Vanderperk. Director, Watershed Management) and other City staff who attempting [sic] to escalate this issue and financially burden the taxpayers of the City of Hamilton,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the city said in a news release last Friday that it’s in the process of establishing environmental monitoring agreements with First Nations communities and has signed agreements with Six Nations of the Grand River, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, and the Huron-Wendat Nation.
The HDI has not signed the proposed agreement, the city said.
The city says the unsigned agreement with the HDI is not the only factors that could delay the project’s progress, like equipment malfunctions, supply chain delays, inclement weather and other unknowns.
“The biggest unknown is how well the hydraulic dredging operations will progress and what equipment challenges might occur,” Winters said
He said the contractor that the city hired to complete the dredging project also completed the Randall Reef dredging and they’ve said the difficulty is not knowing what is buried in the sediment.
“That could cause challenges with the hydraulic dredging operation,” Winters said.
“That could be something as simple as tree branches that are buried or large rocks. And when this equipment impacts those materials without knowing that they’re there, that’s going to slow down the dredging process and hopefully not damage the equipment itself. So ultimately, by changing the order deadlines, time has been removed from the project schedule that would have accommodated any of those challenges that could and likely will be encountered.”
City staff advised the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) February 7 that the Chedoke Creek Work Plan was scheduled to resume in June, with in-water dredging work to begin on July 17 and be completed by Oct. 31.
Detlor says he wasn’t made aware of that, or exemptions that may affect consultation and environmental monitoring. He plans to continue to demand engagement.
“To date no one has even provided us with the ‘approvals’ provided by TC and/or any other Federal entity. At the same time we have nothing to indicate how and/or when TC attempted to obtain consent where TC did not provide notification or contact HDI and/or HCCC in any manner with respect to its decision(s). Could you please advise how and when TC considered the impact of proposed dredging in relation to the established rights of the Haudenosaunee,” he wrote.
The city had monitoring agreements with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River elected council and the Huron-Wendat Nation, Winters noted. “So we’ve been working with them to extend those because they all expired at the end of last year.”