“New” Centennial Park will be safe again, but plain 

The Ontario Environment Ministry has rejected Sarnia’s plan to construct a steel seawall and extend Centennial Park 30 feet into Sarnia Bay. The decision has forced city officials to move a proposed “gathering area” further to the east.

Cathy Dobson

The remediation of Centennial Park will be completed this summer, but residents shouldn’t expect a lot in the way of new amenities.

The lion’s share of money is going to cap and contain historic contamination in the soil and make the park safe for public use, city staff say.

“This is not a simple project. It’s not something that’s done every day. But we will have a park to be proud of again and we’ll stay within budget,” said city engineer Andre Morin.

City hall had already spent about $3.3 million remediating the asbestos and heavy metals that closed the park in 2013.

Finishing the final phases this summer is expected to cost another $5.5 million, bringing the total very close to the $8,758,763 total approved by council.

Staff is concentrating on remedial work under the ground so the park can be used again, said Morin.  Once that’s done, new amenities will be built if there’s money left in the budget.

“I want all those fences down,” he said. “This was an environmental disaster we never asked for and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do with a very challenging situation.”

Morin said a tender will go out in the next few weeks for the final stages, which include demolition of the Dow People Place and construction of a seawall on the natural shoreline of Sarnia Bay. The goal is to have the entire project done by September.

The remediation has hit several snags, most recently a plan to extend a seawall 30 feet into Sarnia Bay and dump and cap contaminated soil from the playground area behind it.

The Environment Ministry said extending the shoreline into the bay would encroach on natural fish habitat and nixed the idea.

“That’s pushed everything 30 feet to the north and increased costs,” Morin said.

It also means the place chosen for a central gathering area and performance stage has changed.  The new plan uses the site of the existing Dow People Place, calls for demolition of the aging building and establishing a “very modest performance area” with a covered roof over the new stage with washrooms.

“We’re trying to make the best out of the situation,” said Beth Gignac, Sarnia’s director of Parks and Recreation.

“For instance, we are salvaging some of the Dow People Place aluminum roofing to be reused (for buildings in other parks).”

Staff estimate there will be about $1.2 million in the budget for new amenities, including boat launches, the gathering place, washrooms, pathways and trees.

Sarnia Bluewaterland Rotary has donated  $150,000 for a new accessible playground and an “age-friendly” garden.

“But I really want to emphasize that this is remediation first and a park redevelopment second,” said Gignac.

“The vast majority of the money is needed for necessary environmental protections to prevent the park from getting any worse.”

While the park’s central “great lawn” reopened last year it isn’t ready for big waterfront events yet, she added.

“The park will be a construction zone this year,” Gignac said. “But special events will definitely return in 2017.”