Close to 200 residents packed the York Civic Chamber Friday evening for an information session in the aftermath of the July 8th storm that hit Toronto. People impacted by basement flooding and sewer backups, especially in the Cordella Avenue area of York South-Weston are struggling to get their lives back to normal. Some are still without hot water and many have yet to receive a response from the city or their insurance companies. Ms Nunziata was flanked by a panel of city water engineers, claims adjusters and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. A representative from MPP Laura Albanese was also on the panel but didn’t participate. Toronto’s head of Stormwater Management, Ted Bowering began the evening with a talk that he had delivered many times before. Unfortunately the dry and glacially slow presentation outlining why peoples’ basements were flooded was not what residents were looking for. When Bowering estimated that a study of the local problem might be completed by March of 2014, the room erupted with anger. Many blamed the city for not fixing a problem that has been evident for years. Storm and sanitary sewers are combined in many areas and since there are fewer open spaces, rain is no longer absorbed by the ground. This causes sewage to regularly back up into basements. There is a downspout disconnection program that the city hopes will lead to less water in storm sewers but with smaller lots, downspouts simply drain onto pavement and into the sewers anyway. What is needed are larger, separated sewers so that storm water doesn’t get into and overwhelm sanitary sewers.
A TRCA representative talked about Black Creek and the channel, constructed in the 1960s that is now inadequate for the job, is poorly maintained and doesn’t drain floodwater off adjacent streets. Next, a City of Toronto insurance adjuster asked residents to submit claims to the city and they would be considered but several residents interrupted his presentation to indicate that the city had denied claims in the past and had invited them to sue if they didn’t like the answer.
As the meeting progressed, Ms. Nunziata was repeatedly shouted down by residents expressing anger that nothing is being done for them and the lack of response from the city. The last straw came when a representative from Mike Sullivan’s office took to the floor and tried to confront the councillor about a lack of support for infrastructure. Ms Nunziata walked off the podium and seemed to end the meeting leaving residents frustrated and bewildered. She eventually came back and resumed listening to residents but by that time, many had left. It is hoped that another meeting will be held that will have a more structured format so that all sides will be able to speak without interruption.
As for the solution to flooding, this will require an intelligent approach with upgraded sewers, holding tanks to store floodwater until it can be safely released but most of all, a commitment from councillors to implement a speedy solution that works and to find the money that will be necessary. With two major storms already this year, the next one may be just around the corner. Infrastructure maintenance and improvement isn’t sexy but when it’s neglected, the consequences cause a lot of suffering and unnecessary expense for residents and well-deserved political fallout for elected representatives.