Port authority moves to cap controversial waste cell

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The Beach Strip
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Richard Leitner, Mountain News

(Jul 14, 2006)
The Hamilton Port Authority is throwing cold water on a citizen group's hopes of opening the eastern harbour for fishing and other recreational activities.

Linda MacDonald, the federal agency's vice-president of operations, said work is presently underway to prepare the stretch of shoreline along Eastport Drive for more industrial uses.

As part of those plans, a controversial open-water waste disposal cell at Pier 27 is being readied to receive sediments from a navigational dredging slated for this fall, she said.

The "confined disposal facility" - criticized for years as a potential hazard to migratory ducks and birds who flock there to feed - will then be capped to prepare for after-uses, she said.

Ms. MacDonald said she's heard others want to see the harbour's eastern shoreline opened to public uses, but declined to comment.

"We are moving ahead with the land-use plan and we are looking at industrial uses for that area," she said. "We are looking at the potential for more marine terminals."

The port authority's plans don't sit well with Jim Howlett, president of the Hamilton Beach Community Council.

His group is pushing for the strip between Windermere Basin and Burlington Canal to be developed with a bike trail, fishing piers and wetlands - a proposal publicly endorsed by the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the area's councillor, Chad Collins.

Mr. Howlett said the harbour already has an abundance of marine terminals and recent history suggests the port authority will opt for uses "that aren't really compatible with their mandate."

These include an asphalt plant that has had a major fire and spill, he said, and a truck repair shop that sustained heavy damage last December after a tanker truck exploded, sending five workers to hospital and hurling debris hundreds of metres.

"They're not what Hamilton needs, as far as its image," Mr. Howlett said.

"It's time for them to put something green back in where they've put so many industries that are grey and black," he said.

"Maybe they'll put something there that will serve them and make them money, but they're not going to put something in there that's going to serve the greater community."

Hamilton Beach resident Scott Howley also blasted the port authority's plans, saying he particularly objects to placing "huge amounts of toxic waste" in the Pier 27 disposal cell.

He said the cell should be emptied because its toxins may be leaching into the surrounding water - and toward his home, located just on the other side of the highway.

"I don't want that crap beside my house. I can't grow tomatoes anymore. I wouldn't dare have a garden," Mr. Howley said.

"They say it doesn't migrate. But it's a sand bar - how can it not?" he said. "They should have never been allowed there in the first place. It's just take, take, take."

Roger Santiago, a sediment remediation specialist with Environment Canada, said he's yet to review the port authority's latest dredging plan in detail.

But he said placing sediments in the cell and then capping it will prevent further exposure to wildlife and the harbour.

The port authority's own environmental assessment of sediments placed in the cell from a 2003 dredging found elevated levels of PCBs, heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ammonia, phosphorous and nitrogen.

Mr. Santiago said he's yet to see the chemical data on the new sediments to be placed in the cell, but taking them out of the bay is an improvement.

"I think the port authority are being proactive to eliminate or reduce exposure from those sediments," he said.

"It's presently unconfined now as it currently sits in the harbour, so it's being placed in the confined cell to basically isolate it from the environment and not have exposure the way it currently sits now."

Critics - including those working on the harbour's remedial action plan -- have been raising concerns about the cell since at least 1993, when a study found mallard ducks feeding in the area had elevated PCB levels.

It became a renewed source of controversy last year after water samples taken surreptitiously from the site killed daphnia fleas in standard toxicity tests conducted under the supervision of McMaster University microbiologist George Sorger.

Dr. Sorger called for more testing to ensure the site isn't leaking and suggested the site be covered to prevent birds from flocking there.

At the time, the port authority said capping wasn't an option because the site had 20 years of remaining capacity.
 
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