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Who is Charge of Harbour Clean-ups in Ontario?

As reported by the CBC, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) does not consider itself as the lead for the clean-up of Hamilton Harbour or Thunder Bay harbour.  ECCC says, while it is leading an ongoing harbour cleanup in Hamilton, it’s not a role the federal agency usually assumes.

That comes as proponents of cleaning up historical pollution in the harbour in Thunder Bay, Ont., try and sort out who is responsible for spearheading similar efforts in the northwestern Ontario city.

“If your question is, does it need a champion? It absolutely does,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said of the importance that an organization with jurisdiction over a polluted site push for a cleanup. “It needs one organization to keep pushing it along.”

“If it continues to be work that is just secondary work for someone off the corner of their desk, then it’s going to be a long, hard, arduous process.”

Efforts to clean up historical industrial pollution at the Randle Reef site in Hamilton’s harbour date back at least 15 years, said Eisenberger, who also used to be the chair of the board for the Hamilton Port Authority.  For years, he said, the port effectively served the lead agency role, coordinating local stakeholders and senior levels of government to move the project forward.

Environment Canada took the reins well into the project’s lifespan, according to Eisenberger and a spokesperson with the federal agency, and only after the involvement of the Hamilton port — who owns the harbour bed at Randle Reef.

In Thunder Bay, determining who should be that advocate has been difficult; the water lots where 400,000 cubic metres of mercury-contaminated pulp fibre sit in the harbour’s north end are owned by Transport Canada but administered by the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Transport Canada has told CBC News spearheading a cleanup is up to the port, while port officials say they’ve been told by Transport Canada to advise on — not lead — remediation efforts.  The port has pointed to Environment Canada as the most appropriate lead agency, citing its role in Hamilton.

Approximate Area of Contaminated Sediment in Thunder Bay Harbour

‘No standard model’

Just because Environment Canada takes a leadership role in one project doesn’t necessarily mean it will in all cases, a spokesperson with the agency said.

“There really is no standard model for remediating contaminated sites other than that governments try to apply, where possible, the polluter-pay principle,” Jon Gee, Environment Canada’s manager of the Great Lakes area of concern wrote in an email to CBC News.

In Thunder Bay, the industrial companies largely responsible for the legacy pollution no longer exist.

Environment Canada’s lead role in Hamilton was the result of “a long negotiation between the Government of Canada and the other organizations,” Gee wrote. “It is not a role that the Department usually undertakes.”

The jurisdictional confusion in Thunder Bay has caught the attention of at least one legislator in the area.  Officials with the office of Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu said she has met with members of the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan’s public advisory committee and that she will also discuss the matter with the federal ministers of transport and the environment.

Construction of the Randle Reef cleanup project in Hamilton Harbour

Gee said Environment Canada “remains committed” to working with government and other stakeholders on the project.

In Hamilton’s case, funding for the $139 million Randle Reef project is being split among the federal and provincial governments, as well as Hamilton, Burlington, the Hamilton Port Authority and Stelco, a steel company based in Hamilton. It’s expected to be complete in 2022.

In Thunder Bay, a number of remediation options were presented in 2014 to the public, with feedback going into a report.  Environment Canada has said no preferred option was identified because there is no lead agency on the project. Cost estimates at the time ranged anywhere from $30 million to $90 million.

Status of Hamilton Harbour Clean-up

As reported in the Hamilton Spectator, Hamilton Harbour still has an undetermined number of years to go before it can meet water quality and ecological standards acceptable to the International Joint Commission.  The Canada/U.S. bilateral agency that oversees cross-border water issues said in a statement this week that — after three decades — it is growing restless about the slow pace of Great Lakes water improvements on both sides of the border.

“The IJC identifies specific gaps in achieving the human health objectives … for drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters, and recommends that the governments set an accelerated and fixed period of time for effectively achieving zero discharge of inadequately treated or untreated sewage into the Great Lakes,” the agency says.

More than 30 years ago, the commission deemed 43 “areas of concern” on the Great Lakes — including Hamilton Harbour — and only seven sites have so far been delisted, three of which are in Canada.

Two big projects currently underway in Hamilton harbour are expected to lead to major improvements in its water quality. The first is the ongoing work encapsulating the highly toxic coal tar blob at Randle Reef. The Randle Reef Contaminated Sediment Remediation Project is scheduled for completion in 2022 at a total cost of $138.9 million spread out over three phases.

The other ongoing big-ticket item is Woodward Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is in the second year of a five-year, $340-million upgrade that will raise treatment to a modern tertiary level. This is expected to dramatically reduce discharges into the bay with most notably a reduction of 65,000 kilograms of phosphorus per year.

Status of Thunder Bay Harbour Clean-up

As reported in TB News Watch, the recommendations in a clean-up report of mercury in Thunder Bay, Ontario harbour have yet to be acted upon.  It has been more than three years since a consultant’s report identified options for the management of 400,000 cubic metres (14 million cubic feet) of mercury-contaminated sediment.

Thunder Bay is located at the northwest corner of Lake Superior and has a population of approximately 110,000.

The source of the mercury in the sediment was industrial activity along Thunder Bay’s north harbour for over 90 years including pulp and paper mill operations.  The sediment is contaminated with mercury in concentrations that range from 2 to 11 ppm at the surface of the sediment to 21 ppm at depth and ranging in thickness from 40 to 380 centimeters and covering an area of about 22 hectares (54 acres).

The preferred solution in the consultant’s report was to dredge the sediment and transfer it to the Mission Bay Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) at the harbour’s south end.  That came with an estimated cost of $40 million to $50 million, and was considered the best choice based on factors such as environmental effectiveness and cost.  The consultants also looked at other options, including building a new containment structure on the shoreline adjacent to the former Superior Fine Papers mill.

New spill rules tag transport companies with response, recovery costs in B.C.

As reported by Dirk Meissner of the Canadian Press, the Government of British Columbia has introduced pollution prevention regulations to hold transport companies moving petroleum products across the province responsible for the costs of responding to and cleaning up spills.

Environment Minister George Heyman said recently that the new regulations will take affect at the end of October and apply to pipeline, railway and truck company owners and transporters moving more than 10,000 litres of liquid petroleum products.

The rules increase responsibility, transparency and accountability for operators who transport potentially dangerous products through B.C., he said.

“I would hope that business doesn’t believe that individual members of the public through their tax dollars should be responsible for cleaning up spills they incur in the course of doing business and making a profit.”

The aim of the new rules is to prevent spill sites from being left contaminated for months and sometimes years, Heyman said, noting companies will be required to submit spill response and recovery plans ahead of moving their products.

“Most people subscribe to the polluter pay principle,” he said. “These regulations also require that spill contingency plans be put into place and that recovery plans and reporting plans be implemented in the case of a spill. That’s just reasonable.”

CN Rail said in a statement that it continues to work with the B.C. government and its industry partners on emergency response and preparation plans. The railway transports oil and numerous other products, including grain, across B.C.

“Emergency and spill response preparation and training is an important part of our business,” the statement said. “CN has in place emergency response plans and conducts spill and emergency response training with stakeholders across our network.”

The B.C. Trucking Association said in a statement that it supports the province’s new rules.

“We have been actively engaged in working with the government on the development of these regulations because the safety of our drivers, the public and the environment is our number one priority,” the statement said.

New pollution prevention regulations will hold transport companies and pipeline operators moving petroleum products across British Columbia responsible for spill response and recovery costs. A pipeline at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, with an oil tanker in dock on Burrard Inlet.

Last spring, the previous Liberal government amended the Environmental Management Act to include some of the new regulations, but Heyman said he further tweaked the polluter pay regulations to ensure annual public reporting by the government.

He said he also shortened the deadline for operators to put their spill contingency plans in place to one year for trucking companies and six months for railways and pipelines.

The new rules do not apply to marine vessels carrying petroleum products along the B.C. coastline.

“Marine spills are regulated by the federal government but there is some jurisdiction for the province if a marine spill ends up washing onto the shoreline of B.C.’s jurisdiction or the seabed,” Heyman said.

The province is developing a strengthened marine response and recovery program that complements federal spill regulations, he added.

The new regulations come on the one-year anniversary of a fuel spill off B.C.’s central coast, where a tug sank, spilling more than 100,000 litres of diesel into waters near the Great Bear Rainforest.

Marilyn Slett, chief of the Heiltsuk First Nation, said the sinking of the tug, Nathan E. Stewart, has had devastating social and economic impacts on her community.

A valuable fishing area remains closed a year after the spill and many Heiltsuk face the prospect of a second year without revenue from the area’s valuable shellfish species, she said.

by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press