Soil dumped at the airport earning heaps of criticism

City council wants something done, and soon, about the piles of dredged soil dumped at Sarnia Chris Hadfiled Airport. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

Large mounds of slightly contaminated soil dredged from Sarnia Harbour and dumped at Chris Hadfield Airport are generating a lot of complaints this summer.

Councillor Matt Mitro said he can’t even attend a wedding without being plagued by questions.

“A couple of wedding guests, who were supposedly friends of mine, attacked me all night long about the giant, ugly berm as we drive into our city,” Mitro told council last week.

“I was grilled at a wedding.”

He and other councillors want to know when the hills of sediment at the city’s eastern entrance will be graded, reshaped into a berm and seeded.

“We’ve got all this dredged soil with metals in it just sticking out and an eyesore” seen by eastbound travellers on Highway 402, said Coun. Cindy Scholten.

She wondered whether the companies hired by the city to do the job are prolonging the work in order to make more money. The dredging and dumping job was supposed to be complete by the spring.

The work has already cost $3.2 million and the additional cost to contain the site’s perimeter with clay, and build a berm is still unknown.

Coun. Ann Marie Gillis didn’t mince words.

“This is a gateway,” she said. “This is at our door and (when people enter Sarnia) it’s the first thing they see.

“It’s a monstrosity and it looks hideous … and people are upset that it’s been there that long.”

The city hired Quebec-based Ocean Group last year for the harbour dredging, the first since Sarnia assumed ownership from the federal government. Previously, the silt scooped up from the harbour bottom was dumped out in Lake Huron.

That didn’t happen this time because preliminary testing found the sediment was too contaminated to be deposited in open water. However, the relatively low-levels of heavy metals, volatile organic compounds and hydrocarbons met the standard for land disposal.

So it was trucked from the harbour to the city-owned airport property.

The operation took longer than expected because of equipment failures and unfavourable weather. An abnormally wet spring prolonged the time needed to dry out the sediment and contain the run-off. Meanwhile, a concerning sheen was detected and led to an additional plan to surround the site with clay before berming.

That plan still requires approval from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, said Sarnia’s Chief Administrative Officer, Marg Misek-Evans.

Late last week, the ministry requested more data analysis from the city, leaving the cost and the date of completion up in the air.

“We recognize that it’s an eyesore and we want it to look good too,” said Misek-Evans. “We are trying to remedy it as quickly as possible.”

The last time the harbour was dredged was in 2008. Since then, sediment built up and fully loaded ships could no longer dock there.

The dredging completed in January and gave the harbour a depth of 8.4 metres at the government dock and North Slip, and 8.6 metres at the Sydney Smith Wharf.

It’s not likely the harbour will need dredging again for a decade, depending on weather and erosion on Lake Huron’s shoreline.