Delay dealing with dredged harbour sediment draws scorn from councillors

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One city councillor is calling it a hideous monstrosity.

“This is at our gateway,” said Anne Marie Gillis.

People driving into Sarnia via Highway 402, “it’s the first thing they see,” she said.

The vision is a weed-topped series of silty hills scooped from the riverbed at Sarnia Harbour and trucked out to surplus city property at the Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport.

There it’s sat since dredging to deepen the harbour wrapped up in January, draining so it can be formed and seeded into more aesthetic berms.

That was supposed to happen in the spring, but soggy weather has meant delays.

Meanwhile, the eyesore persists.

“It just looks terrible,” said Gillis.

She and other city councillors were recently informed of a new grading plan that involves using clay to seal the base perimeter of the soil – “slightly contaminated,” city officials have said, with metals, volatile organic compounds, petroleum hydrocarbons and other compounds.

The sediment was tested prior to dredging and determined to be within provincial thresholds for contamination, city officials have said.

The plan is supposed to prevent water from leaking out and is expected to raise the cost of the already $3.2-million project that’s allowed fully loaded ships to again enter Sarnia Harbour.

How much the cost will rise isn’t yet known, but should be more apparent after a Ministry of Environment and Climate Change visit to gauge the site Thursday, said Marg Misek-Evans, the city’s chief administrator.

“If things go well – they confirm the revised grading plan is adequate – then we hope to be in there shortly thereafter,” she said.

How long it’ll take to complete the project isn’t yet clear, she said.

“That’s the $64 question right there.”

The new plan is an update from when the project was tendered last September, said Brian Riggs, with London-based project engineer Riggs Engineering.

The mounds were initially planned for further east on the property, but airport officials requested the current location, he said.

A new grading plan had to be devised as a result, he said.

The sediment was deposited at the airport as opposed to being tugged further into Lake Huron – as it was the last time the harbour was dredged, in 2008 – for reasons of cost, safety, and concerns from the commercial fishing industry, he said.

The contractor too is being asked to pull out any metal objects so nothing will be protruding after the sediment is graded, Misek-Evans said.

Meanwhile, some Sarnia councillors are blaming the companies hired to do the job for the delay and the unsightliness of the site.

“I believe that we have not been served well as the client,” Gillis said, musing about whether the municipality would be treated better if it was a private company.

“I don’t know whether they think the city has deep pockets,” she said. “I just don’t know where their heads are at.”

Coun. Cindy Scholten said she sometimes wonders whether city-contracted companies intentionally prolong work.

“Do we need to be (firmer) with our deadlines and firmer with our agreed financial terms?” she asked recently, during a city council meeting.

Quebec City-based Ocean Group has carried out the dredging and sediment transport work, with Riggs Engineering and Pollutech EnviroQuatics Ltd. as consultants.

Riggs Engineering is overseeing the project and administering the contracts.

One of the key issues for the delay is the soil type was misidentified as almost all sandy in a bidding process document, said Jean-Philippe Brunet, executive vice-president of corporate and legal affairs with Ocean Group.

“They had more silt in reality,” he said, noting it takes much longer to dry.

A spokesperson with Pollutech EnviroQuatics, which did extensive sediment testing to determine if it was suitable for disposal at the airport, deferred comment to the city.

“If the contractor is saying that that’s having an impact on the drying of the material, then that’s their position,” Misek-Evans said, noting post-dredging analysis is normal.

“It’s being investigated by our contract administrator.”

The soil type has had an impact on drying, said Riggs, as has the wet spring; but not on aesthetics.

“It’s certainly gone on a long time,” he said about the project. “Probably too long.”

There is nothing more Ocean Group could have done to make the site less of an eyesore in the meantime, Brunet said.

“Maybe (the city) should have had another place to put the silty soil, but it’s a question of time to dry,” he said.

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