The city yesterday suspended an employee without pay in connection with a nearly two-year-old sewage spill into the Ottawa River, shortly after Ontario’s environment ministry confirmed it would investigate the matter.
A city probe into the incident found that an operational employee who was responsible for reporting the spill to the Ministry of Environment “did not do his job and, in fact, did not make the call,” Deputy City Manager of Public Works, Richard Hewitt, said in a memo yesterday.
The city called a news conference yesterday shortly after the Ontario Legislature was told that Ottawa did not advise the province of the spill until last May. The city had previously said it notified the ministry of the spill on Aug. 15, 2006. But that turned out not to be true, Hewitt advised yesterday.
“I am dismayed … that management was provided with erroneous information by the employee regarding the specifics of when the ministry was initially notified.”
The city could now face charges depending on the outcome of the MOE investigation.
“The investigation began a couple of days ago,” said ministry spokes-man John Steele.
Steele couldn’t say how much raw sewage was spilled “because that’s part of the investigation,” but estimates are that nearly a million cubic metres made its way into the river after a sewage valve got stuck open and was left that way for two weeks. The spill is believed to have elevated bacteria levels that resulted in the closure of Petrie Island Beach in 2006.
Under legislation, all spills must be reported to MOE “as quickly as possible,” said Steele.
Steele didn’t know how long the investigation will take, but because the ministry has two years less a day to bring charges, any charges would have to be laid by July.
Ottawa River Keeper Meredith Brown said it is not uncommon for sewage to be dumped into the river, especially during heavy rain when the system can’t accommodate the volume.
She said the infrastructure needs to be upgraded and more transparent protocols put in place to notify the public if it happens again.