Sarnians can look forward to reclaiming a portion of Centennial Park this summer, but there will be no sports or special events offered there, say city staff.
“We really want to ask folks to be gentle with the park. It’s still in a relatively fragile state,” says Beth Gignac, the city’s new parks and rec director.
An eight-foot fence has surrounded much of the waterfront park since May 2013 when concern arose over a tar-like substance bubbling to the surface in a small grassy section.
A multi-million-dollar remediation was ordered by city council after consultants confirmed asbestos was in the grounds and lead levels exceeded Environment Ministry standards by up to five times in some areas.
The first of three clean-up phases has cost $2.5 million and involved scraping topsoil from the open field of the “bowl,” raising the toboggan hills in the north end by about 10 feet, and removing berms on the west and east sides of the field.
A geotextile fabric was laid over the contaminated area and covered with 20 inches of sand, then covered with another eight inches of topsoil.
In the coming days the field will be seeded and new trees planted, says Bryan Prouse, Sarnia’s operations manager.
The public will have some access to the park once the grass is cut around the end of May, but it’s too soon to plan big events, said Gignac.
“We’ll have gentle, passive use of the park space. For instance, families can have a picnic, sunbathe or throw a ball around, but there will be no soccer, and no ultimate Frisbee.”
That will have to wait until 2016 when the grass is better established, she said.
Meanwhile, annual events like Kids Funfest and Hobbyfest will continue to be relocated to other parks.
City staff also met recently with the volunteers who planned to build a legacy project in Centennial Park in 2014. When the contamination closed most of the park, the project was put on hold.
It’s possible the next two phases of remediation will involve the legacy project, according to Gignac.
A staff report is expected to go to city council April 13 to propose options for further remediation in the children’s playground area, along Sarnia Bay, and around the Dow People Place.
Prouse said the sandy playground that has attracted kids for decades is one of the most contaminated areas of the park.
“It has to be completely cleaned up,” he said. “There will be another playground but we don’t know its size or location.”
Waterfront protection is required along Sarnia Bay to stop contaminants from seeping into the St. Clair River, Prouse said.
Gignac said she is “excited” about the April 13 staff report but can’t discuss it before it goes to council.
“I’ve arrived at the perfect time to reimagine the park space,” she said. “I think folks will be very excited by the report too.”