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Council preview: South Innisfil Creek Drain on agenda for first Council meeting of 2021

'An important step in the advancement of the South Innisfil Creek Drain Improvement project’
Innisfil Town Hall. Natasha Philpott/InnisfilToday

The first Innisfil Council meeting of the year takes place tonight – once again, virtually and live-streamed on the town's YouTube channel.

This evening’s meeting will include a response of the Integrity Commissioner to ongoing allegations and complaints against a councillor by a local business; a 53- signature petition calling on the town to designate the beach at the road-end of West Street for residents’ use only; and an update on the South Innisfil Creek Drain project.

The South Innisfil Creek Drain is a project two decades in the making. In 2000, the nearly century-old South Innisfil Creek drain overflowed its banks, causing significant flooding and crop losses in the Cookstown Marsh.

A farmer petitioned the Town of Innisfil for improvements to the drain, under the Drainage Act, but the town failed to respond. Even when a civil suit ordered the town to comply, there was no maintenance of the drain undertaken by the municipality.

In 2005, the Ontario Drainage Referee ordered the municipality to retain Dillon Consulting to prepare an Engineering Report on the work required to upgrade the drain system. The preliminary report was presented in 2006, but Dillon did not present its final report until 2013.

By that time, the costs – to be born by the ‘benefiting landowners’ within the drain watershed – had ballooned from nearly $2.7 million to $7 million, representing a crushing financial burden for  property owners.  

Faced with public protests, the Town of Innisfil went back to the Drainage Referee and asked that their hands be “untied”, freeing them from the original referee’s order and opening the door to the hiring of a new engineer to revisit the plans.

The revised study was undertaken by R.J. Burnside & Associates Ltd., which filed its Final Engineer’s report on Feb. 13, 2019 – bringing the total cost of the project down to $5.25 million. The sum included engineering costs, and Dillon Consulting fees totalling over $1 million.

The amount assessed to private landowners was reduced to $2.9 million; the remainder was assessed to the Town of Innisfil, Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury (which includes a portion of the drain), Simcoe County, the province and the Ministry of Transportation (MTO).

The cost to individual landowners was further reduced by construction allowances, provincial grants for farming operations, and the town's shouldering of the $835,000 bill from Dillon Consulting for its earlier work and delayed engineering report.

The project was approved by Innisfil Council in November 2019, and early in 2020 the town pre-qualified four of the 13 contractors who expressed interest.

However, issuance of the Request for Tender was delayed until October, as Innisfil waited learn if its application for a $1.9 million Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) grant had been approved.

The reason for the wait: contracts awarded before approval of federal funding are not eligible for a grant.

In June 2020, the town learned that its application had been turned down. At that point, staff prepared the Request for Tenders.

Two companies submitted a tender bid; staff recommended awarding the contract to low bidder R&D Excavating Ltd. in the amount of $2.431 million (excluding HST).

The amount is within the engineer's estimate of $2.61 million, updated in October.

The schedule presented to council this evening will outline four phases of construction, stretching from Jan. 1, 2021 to the end of 2023, with any contingency or provisional work to be completed in 2024.

Phase 1, to be completed in 2021, includes all work on the main drain from Innisfil Line 15 to the west side of Highway 400, plus all works for Branch A, and the MTO’s Highway 400 Crossing improvements.

The report to council warned that there could be delays to the latter part of Phase 1. A letter received from the MTO indicated that while the preliminary design has been completed, it will involve a change order – and if the cost estimate provided by the contractor does not represent what MTO considers “fair value to the ministry based on our estimate of the work,” there could be delays.

The improvements would have to then be undertaken as a “stand alone” project, only after ongoing work at Highway 89 is completed by the current contractor.

As the letter noted, “If it has to go as a standalone project it is likely that construction would be pushed into 2022.”

A portion of the South Innisfil Creek Drain project is already underway, as a town project. The Reive Boulevard crossing replacement was undertaken in 2020, replacing an existing triple barrel crossing with a new 20 metre clear span bridge. The work will be completed this spring.

The report, presented for information purposes, notes that the award of the contract "marks an important step in the advancement of the South Innisfil Creek Drain Improvement project."

Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, at 7 p.m. Click here to view the agenda, and connect to YouTube.