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Randle Reef cap may lose natural area to light industry

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Randle Reef may no longer set aside one-third of its surface space for a natural area once its coal tar blob is capped by a proposed containment facility.

A comprehensive study report on the $138.9-million project states that 2.5 hectares originally earmarked for “naturalized open space” may now instead be “surfaced with a suitable aggregate material” and used for light industrial space.

As previously planned, the remaining five hectares will still serve as a Hamilton Port Authority marine terminal, according to the report, released by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for public comment until Feb. 3.

Councillor Brian McHattie, chair of the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said he’s been told the change is a “quid pro quo” for getting the port authority to increase its contribution to $14 million for the project.

He said he has yet to consult conservation authority directors, but can live with the tradeoff if a similar amount of habitat is created elsewhere in the harbour to compensate. Initial plans called for the authority to develop the reef’s green space.

“We would ask for a no net loss for that one-third of the property,” McHattie said. “I don’t know how much that (compensation) is or how that would translate into so many metres of shoreline, for example, but that’s the approach that I believe we’re going to put forward.”

Chris McLaughlin, executive director of the Bay Area Restoration Council, said his understanding that the light industrial uses include things like boat storage.

He said he doesn’t see the change is a big loss because the public was never going to have access to Randle Reef – located just off shore from U.S. Steel – and the natural area would likely only be a grass strip that would attract geese and gulls.

“We’re not losing anything aesthetically,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t think we can equate green space with habitat here. Green space may simply be grass, so it’s not prime habitat that’s going to help us reach other goals.”

John Hall, coordinator of the remedial action plan to clean up the harbour, said he also doesn’t have a problem with the change because it adds more flexibility on the cap’s end use once the project is completed in about 10 years’ time.

He said the original plan only called for a landscaped area, one that was never intended to perform any ecological function for the harbour or be open to the public.

“It doesn’t seem to be inconsistent with the remedial action plan because our focus in the remedial action plan is to get the Randle Reef toxic sediment contained, and that’s what this project does and that’s our push,” Hall said.

“We really have done the habitat in the harbour that we need to do. Our focus on wildlife habitat is Cootes Paradise marsh and the mouth of the Grindstone (Creek). That’s where we want to be spending our efforts, not on the landscaping of the Randle Reef.”

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 project, with the city, port authority and U.S. contributing $14 million each in cash and/or materials. Halton region and Burlington are also kicking in $4.3-million.

An open house on the project is being held on Jan. 16 from 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at the Waterfront Banquet & Conference Centre, 555 Bay Street North, Hamilton.

The public can also 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.

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