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After 19 years and flooding complaints, Bradford-Innisfil drain project moves forward

About $9,000 will be billed to Bradford West Gwillimbury agricultural lands, and about $7,000 assessed to non-agricultural landowners

Almost 20 years after flooding in the Innisfil Marsh led to complaints from local farmers, and 13 years after a drainage referee ordered the Town of Innisfil to undertake improvements to the South Innisfil Creek Drain, the town is on track to a solution.

On Wednesday night, Innisfil council received the final engineer’s report on the drain from R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd., and voted to move forward with the nearly $5.3 million project.

About 250 hectares of the drain watershed lies within Bradford West Gwillimbury.

It’s a story as convoluted and complex as the branches of the drain itself.

Professional engineer and project manager Jeff Dickson and his team provided a brief history to Innisfil council of the South Innisfil Creek Drain, constructed in 1903.

Apart from secondary drains constructed in the 1950s, clean-out and maintenance of the main drain in the 1970s, and again in 2004, there is no record of any major work being done on the infrastructure, which drains approximately 8,000 hectares, mostly in Innisfil, noted Engineering Assistant Natalie Connell.

There are now deadfalls blocking flows, and erosion of the banks leading to siltation – all of which “lowers the capacity of the drain,” said Connell.

Flooding in 2000 led to a petition from a farmer, asking the town to undertake needed maintenance of the drains.

When flooding continued, the landowner took his complaints to a drainage referee in 2004 – and, in 2006, the referee not only ordered the municipality to retain Dillon Consulting to provide an engineering report, but it limited appeals.

It wasn’t until seven years later, in 2013, that Dillon filed its report, recommending nearly $7 million in work, which included an engineering bill for more than $1 million.

Landowners within the drain watershed reeled: the Drainage Act requires the costs to be assessed against properties within the drainage area.

“Council did not accept the report,” noted Connell, but instead went back to the drainage referee asking to be freed from the 2006 decision. The referee “untied the hands” of the municipality in 2014, which then hired Burnside to review the work done by Dillon – and, in 2016, to work on the South Innisfil Creek Drain project itself.

Wednesday’s final report contained good news for landowners.

For one thing, Burnside & Associates has been able to reach an agreement with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), to deal with the “perched” culverts under Highway 400 – culverts that sit nearly a metre above the drain. The MTO has now agreed to an interim solution, to bore new culverts beneath the 400.

There was also good news regarding cost. The final price tag for the work comes to $5.265 million. That includes $2.606 million for construction, $742,000 for engineering, $215,853 for administration and financing, and a $1.025 million bill from Dillon Consulting.

Fortunately, only the portion of the Dillon bill that covers work of use to Burnside will be assessed to property owners. The value? Only $190,000.

The remaining $835,087 will be assessed to the municipality, bringing the town’s share of costs to approximately $1.171 million, plus $820,590 for road crossings.

The province of Ontario will be assessed $104,597, plus $56,000 for crossings. The County of Simcoe will pay $192,488 – leaving the landowners’ share at $2.9 million, divided among 800 or so properties.

Even that may be partially offset by allowances or, in the case of agricultural land, by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs' (OMAFRA) one-third drainage grant.

The Town of BWG’s share is $1,493, with another $8,809 billed to agricultural lands, and $6,869 assessed to non-agricultural landowners.

John Kunze, professional engineer representing Boris Horodynsky, the market farmer who filed the original complaint, thanked Burnside for a meticulous report that “finally, properly addressed the issues of the South Innisfil Creek Drain.”

Said Kunze: “Every issue has been addressed properly” – in particular, the long-standing problem of the culverts under the 400. “The mess at Highway 400 is finally going to be fixed,” he said.

Kunze also expressed satisfaction that the Town of Innisfil will be picking up $835,000 of Dillon Consulting’s bill.

“Boris is in full support and would like to see this report move forward,” he said.

Diane Hogarth, representing the South Innisfil Creek Drain Committee and at least 12 landowners who were unable to attend the Feb. 27 meeting, disagreed.

Hogarth noted the final report is 1,000 pages long. It has been mailed out to all landowners, but the recipients have had “a maximum of eight days to review and understand five years of professional work.”

She asked council to defer a vote on the engineer’s report “so that all landowners have ample time” to review the contents and ask questions.

Hogarth also objected to billing landowners for any part of the drainage work, arguing the town was negligent back in the early 2000s by failing to respond to petitions – and noting that if there has been negligence or “improper actions, the drainage referee may direct the whole or part of the costs be payable by the town out of general funds.”

She proposed going back to ask the drainage referee to assess all costs to the municipality.

Innisfil Drainage Superintendent Jeremy Nyenhuis warned that deferral would result in additional costs: “The mailing of the notice (advising of a new date), and Burnside’s costs to attend another meeting." 

As for going back to the drainage referee, Nyenhuis noted, “every time an appeal is made to the drainage referee, those costs… all form part of the overall cost,” assessed back to the landowners.

Engineer Don McNalty, vice president of Burnside & Associates, said there are no grounds for going back to the referee.

“This is now back to the normal process, which is council’s responsibility,” McNalty said, adding the only reason to go back would be “if there is a serious fault in law.”

And Dickson issued a warning: not only might a delay impact the interim agreement with the MTO, “there is opportunity for land owners to file a complaint with that same tribunal, if the council decides not to proceed.”

“We should go ahead with this rather than delay it,” said Coun. Bill Van Berkel.

It was a view supported by Nick Torkos, owner of Innisfil Creek Golf Course, which has been impacted by flooding. “This design I totally approve. We do not want to waste time and delay MTO,” Torkos said.

Mayor Lynn Dollin denied there had been negligence on the part of the town, noting the original drainage referee in 2006 had tied the hands of council by ordering the municipality to hire Dillon Consulting. It wasn’t until 2014 the town was able to “unshackle our hands,” leading to the hiring of Burnside, and a more cost-effective solution, she said. 

Hogarth praised the Burnside report, and said she wasn’t blaming council, but “blaming a system that didn’t catch the problems when they happened… Not you, not this council, but the corporation was responsible for not doing their job.”

She noted it was not the landowners who did not carry out maintenance or fail to respond to petitions, yet “according to the Drainage Act it is landowners who are responsible for cost. Is that fair?”

In response, Dickson noted the proposal before council doesn’t involve maintenance, but improvements to the drain, to address issues of flood control and safety.

Manager of Operations Jason Inwood urged the town to move forward.

“Every day is a delay on getting MTO started,” Inwood said. “There are 20 balls up in the air, all hanging on when we get started.”

Dollin, thanking all who spoke, then called for a recorded vote.

Council unanimously voted to adopt the final engineer’s report, and give first and second reading to a by-law authorizing the project, and setting the process in motion.

“It’s been a long process so far, and it’s not over yet,” said Dollin.

Property owners unhappy with their assessments can appeal to a Court of Revision, which will sit March 21 and 22. Appeals must be filed with the town clerk by March 11.

Council also appointed Richard Simpson, Anne Kell, Barry Rutledge and Bill Pring to the Court of Revision. During a Feb. 19 meeting, Bradford West Gwillimbury council appointed Ed Gres to the Court of Revision as the Town of BWG's representative.  

McNalty noted the passage of first and second reading of the provisional bylaw does not impact the ability of any of the 800 landowners to appeal.

With files from Jenni Dunning