KINGSTON — The federal government’s plan to dredge up toxic sediments from the Inner Harbour could be an environmental catastrophe, city council heard Tuesday night.
Council was warned that the plan by Parks Canada and Transport Canada to remove contaminated river sediment could stir up toxic heavy metals and put them back into the river water.
Those toxic chemicals, the waste product of heavy industry, including the Davis Tannery, are sitting in a paste-like substance at the bottom of the harbour.
In their current state, the chemicals are relatively harmless, explained Alan Giacomin, a professor of chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics at Queen’s University.
The natural sedimentation process has trapped the chemicals where they cannot affect the water.
The plan to dredge those sediments has no scientific basis and would create an environmental disaster that could make the water in the river and Lake Ontario unsuitable for drinking or swimming, Giacomin said.
“That is not just going to create a problem on the day of the dredging. This is going to continue for years to come,” Alan Giacomin, a professor of chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics at Queen’s University, said.
“What nature has taken years to pack away at the bottom of that river in a special form is going to be disrupted, and it is going to be like starting over again. It is like reopening the tannery.”
Giacomin described the potential of a cloud of toxic heavy metals flowing from the dredging site downriver into Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River that would make the water unsuitable for drinking and swimming.
“For years to come, until this re-sediments, we’re not going to be able to swim in the water or put young children in the water,” Giacomin said. “This is what I mean by catastrophic. It’s not just going to kill the fishes, it’s going to harm people.
“I have relatives in Brockville and I would worry about their health.”
Giacomin was one of seven delegations to speak against the federal government’s plan to dredge the harbour, many of whom complained that a 1,000-page report about the condition of the Inner Harbour, and a detailed the plan to clean it up, has not been made public.
“This is deeply disturbing,” Mary Farrar of Friends of the Inner Harbour said.
“We don’t know what the feds have done, what the research is.”
Farrar called the plan to clean up the harbour a “leap of faith.”
“Do we trust Transport Canada or not?” she asked.
“I am very mistrustful of Transport Canada,” Bob Clark of MetalCraft Marine said.
Clark said the cleanup plan could jeopardize a federal permit the company needs to operate on the harbour.
“Which means our marina may be out of business and MetalCraft may be out of business,” he said.
The federal government’s $71-million plan is to clean up 15 zones in the harbour through dredging, in-water capping and shoreline revetment.
The city owns water lots in five of the areas the federal government identified as in need of a cleanup, and those areas would account for about $10 million of the total cost.
The federal government has approached the city about the potential of partnering in the cleanup project.
City staff were seeking council’s direction to work with the federal ministries to come up with options to have the city’s properties included in the cleanup.
Leery about appearing to support the cleanup plan, even in principal, city council instead deferred any decision on the city’s participation.
Instead, Transport Canada is to be invited to discuss the plan and its potential impact on “human consumption, recreational swimming, fish and wildlife” with a city committee.
“We need some answers. I need some answers,” Collins-Bayridge District Coun. Lisa Osanic, who put forward the deferral, said.
The federal government is to launch its public consultation process later this year.