The Hamilton Conservation Authority is urging the federal government to compensate it for scrapped plans for a natural area at Randle Reef by providing a similar-sized spot elsewhere in the east harbour.
A resolution passed by directors last week calls for “open and transparent discussions” with Hamilton Harbour remedial action plan stakeholders over the next 18 months to determine the best place to create 2.5 hectares of terrestrial habitat.
Original plans for Randle Reef proposed to naturalize a third of its surface area after the coal-tar blob there is capped, with the remaining five hectares earmarked for a marine pier.
But a report released for public comment on Jan. 4 quietly changed those plans, proposing that the natural area be “surfaced with a suitable aggregate material” and used for light industry.
Authority chair Brian McHattie said he doesn’t necessarily disagree with the revised plan, but objects to the lack of public discussion or input from his agency, which put “many, many hours” into negotiating for the green space.
The Ward 1 councillor suggested a former sediment containment pond at Pier 27 by Eastport Drive is “a perfect candidate” for an alternative location, one that can build on the recent rehabilitation of Windermere Basin.
“I think it’s fair to say that the east harbour has been traditionally the industrial area and has gotten short shrift, if you compare it to the west harbour with Bayfront Park, Pier 4 (Park) and the Waterfront Trail,” McHattie said.
“I think it’s time for all of us to step up in east Hamilton for harbour green space.”
Authority vice-chair Jim Howlett, who has long been active on Hamilton Beach issues, said he’s concerned the jettisoned Randle Reef green space continues the “environmental ghettoization” of the east harbour.
He said the area already lost park space at Pier 25 due to post-9/11 security concerns and the revised Randle Reef project also pulls funding for aquatic habitat.
“There’s a lot of these projects that don’t ever get to life or the life that they have gets taken away,” Howlett said.
“This was an east-harbour project, and now that the plug has apparently been pulled on it, we want something else to happen in the east harbour, something that the public can go to,” he said. “I think it’s a quite reasonable tradeoff.”
Capping Randle Reef and its 630,000 cubic metres of coal-tar sludge is seen as key to delisting Hamilton Harbour as the worst Great Lakes area of concern on the Canadian side of the border – a goal initially set for 2015 but pushed back to 2020.
Ottawa and the province have each committed $46.3 million to the $138.9-million project, with the city, port authority and U.S. Steel contributing $14 million each in cash and/or materials. Halton region and Burlington are also kicking in $4.3-million.
The public can submit written comments on the project until Feb. 3 at RandleReef.EA@ceaa-acee.gc.ca or by writing the Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 55 St. Clair Avenue East, Suite 907 Toronto ON M4T 1M2.