Haudenosaunee chiefs say Hamilton ‘not actually cleaning up’ #Sewergate

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Published March 16, 2023 at 11:32 am

There could be “devastating” results for the Chedoke waterway if Hamilton’s provincially approved dredging of Chedoke Creek and Cootes Paradise goes as planned, in the view of Haudenosaunee hereditary chiefs who protect treaty rights in the area.

The City of Hamilton has had three revised deadlines from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation, and Parks to clean-up some damage from the #Sewergate spill that occurred for over four years in the mid- to late 2010s. The city has environmental monitoring agreements with other Indigenous nations whose traditional territories are in Hamilton. The Haudenosaunee Chiefs Confederay Council (HCCC) and allied Haudenosaunee Development Institute (HDI), who have been negotiating with Hamilton for more than a year about monitoring, issued a joint statement on Wednesday (March 15) stating the the city has failed to undertake a treaty-based cleanup. The HDI also says that it discovered not all of the affected area is being remediated when a visit was paid to the site last August.

“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,” HDI general legal counsel Aaron Detlor said in a letter to media outlets on March 15. “This is something that we are not 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.

“We want clean water for everyone to be able to enjoy and respect and this is not what is currently being contemplated by the City of Hamilton,” Detlor adds, saying HDI supports the principle of cleaning up the area.

The spill, where 24 billion litres of sewage leaked into a delicate ecosystem due to a bypass gate being left open, took place from 2014 to ’18. It was kept quiet by the city council ahead of the 2018 municipal election cycle, and was exposed by a 2019 Hamilton Spectator investigation. The MECP in 2020 ordered a cleanup and accepted Hamilton’s remediation plan in 2021. (Only two current councillors in Hamilton were in office prior to the ’18 elections.)

Last August, after HDI representatives visited the site, work was postponed to this year. The province has since moved the deadline thrice — to Dec. 31, 2023, then Aug. 31, and after the city said it could not guarantee that, to Oct. 31.

Hamilton Water director Nick Winters, at a media availability last Friday, said the most recent meetings with HDI and Detlor was on March 7. He acknowledged deeper dialogue with HCCC about risks to plants and wildlife has not taken place.

“It’s been very challenging to get into any conversations about the project and the real goals and what is being done to protect the species that are there,” Winters said on March 10.

Timeline-wise, it is nearing five years since #Sewergate was deteched in 2018.

The elected leadership of the City of Hamilton, which is situated upon traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, authorizes spending on intergovernmental relations. (The province has said negotiations are Hamilton’s issue.) Winters has said Hamilton Water is only authorized to offer $40,000 to each Indigenous stakeholder.

Detlor has said a proper treaty-based cleanup requires government-to-government funding of around $350,000. Capacity funding for monitors who would be on standby during the dredging work would cost $15,000 per day, which could run into the range of $585,000, said a report in the Two Row Times.

“This is simply the manner in which engagement occurs nowadays,” Detlor said to inTheHammer on Oct. 11, 2022. “We are doing this with mining companies, hydroelectric companies, with pipeline companies. They are nothing new or unusual, that we are putting to the city. What we are trying to say is, ‘Listen, you guys are wasting a lot of money by failing to come to the table in good faith.’ ”

Milestone Environmental Contracting Inc., based on Ottawa, has what was reported as a $5.94-million contract for the dredging work. The MOU (memorandum of understanding) for that work was ratified by city council on Sept. 15, 2021.

Plan ‘doing as little as possible’

That vote came about 2½ years after Hamilton approved its Urban Indigenous Strategy. When it comes to intergovernmental relations on the enviromental protection side, HDI’s Detlor has said the Haudenosaunee representatives have been left out altogether.

In the statement issued on Wednesday, Detlor affirmed that the plan is an affront to treaty-protected rights and interests to harvest fish and wildlife in the area. He reiterated that the plan the province approved does not clean up most of the sewage that Hamilton dumped into it.

“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,” the lawyer says on behalf of HCCC and HDI. “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.

“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 is justifying the purported clean-up with a number of third-party contractor reports,” Detlor adds. “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.

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