Environmental concerns prompt Council to defer proposal for Kingston Inner Harbour

Kingston City Council votes unanimously to defer federal proposal to remediate the contaminated sediment of Kingston’s Inner Harbour on Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021.

The most discussed and contentious item on the agenda for Kingston City Council, the federal proposal to “remediate environmental risks to the river environment and human health of Kingston’s Inner Harbour,” has been deferred.

Ironically, the deferral was proposed for the exact same reasons the federal government stated were behind their proposed project: Environmental risks to the river environment and human health.

The item came before Council at their meeting on Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021, and dominated the meeting with seven delegations presenting to Council about the matter – all of which were added to the agenda at the last minute, and all of whom spoke to the same item. Council heard from:

  • Bob Clark of MetalCraft Marine
  • Alan Giacomin, a professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University
  • Lesley Rudy, a biologist and landscaping business owner with a focus on conservation and native plants and wildlife
  • Elvira Hufschmid, resident, trained horticulturalist, and current PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University
  • Mabyn Armstrong, conservationist and director of Turtles Kingston
  • Mary Farrar, President of Friends of the Inner Harbour
  • Laurel Claus-Johnson, member of the Katarokwi Indigenous Grandmothers Council, founder of the Katarokwi Native Friendship Centre and Mohawk traditionalist

All seven delegates voiced concerns regarding the proposed federal project, which seeks to continue efforts to remediate the contaminated sediment within the Inner Harbour. It is important to note that the parcels of land being targeted in this proposed project belong to three different parties: Two federal parties, Parks Canada and Transportation Canada (who have custodial control over the majority of the waterlots within the Inner Harbour), and; the City of Kingston, which owns waterlots within five of the zones identified as contaminated and in need of remediation.

A map of the Inner Harbour, as attached to the report and recommendation before Council on Tuesday, Apr. 6, 2021, showing the different ownership and controls over the waterlots within the Harbour. Image by Golder Consultants via the City of Kingston.

It is also important to understand the history of the area which has led to the levels of contaminated sediment in the Inner Harbour.

“For over 100 years, from the early 1800’s through to the late 1900’s, the western shores of Kingston’s Inner Harbour within the Great Cataraqui River have been the site of numerous heavy industries, railway infrastructure, shipping, dredging, landfilling, waste disposal and coal, timber and petroleum storage,” Kingston City Staff wrote in the background report to Council attached to the project proposal outline.

“While these early industries allowed Kingston to prosper economically, they left behind a legacy of contaminated soil and river sediments within the Kingston Inner Harbour area.”

Work to remediate the issue began in 2001, when the Kingston Environmental Advisory Forum (KEAF) began an examination of the environmental condition of the Inner Harbour, which lasted until 2006. In 2006, the ad-hoc Cataraqui River Stakeholders Group (CRSG) was formed to continue with a more detailed assessment of risks presented by contaminated river sediments, and develop potential approaches to managing the sediments, according to the report. The CRSG was led by Dr. Ken Reimer of RMC, and involved representation from:

  • Environment Canada
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • CFB Kingston
  • Parks Canada
  • Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks
  • City of Kingston
  • Rideau Renewal Inc.

According to the report, that work led to the RMC Environmental Services Group completing a report, ‘Application of the Canada-Ontario Decision-Making Framework for Contaminated Sediments in the Kingston Inner Harbour,’ in 2014. That report was received for review by the involved federal agencies and other members of the CRSG.

“Most of the Kingston Inner Harbour waterlots containing contaminated river sediment are owned by Transport Canada and Parks Canada with smaller waterlots owned by the City of Kingston and private landowners,” the report reads.

“Transport Canada and Parks Canada undertook several years of follow up environmental assessments that built on the RMC work and have now developed a proposed approach to managing contaminated river sediment within the Kingston Inner Harbour.”

This resulted in the proposal before Council by Transport Canada and Parks Canada, which requested that the City consider partnering in the clean-up effort “by contributing funding or in-kind assistance.”

“A partnership may allow City waterlots to be included in the federal clean-up project and improve the effectiveness of the Kingston Inner Harbour sediment remediation,” the report states.

“The selection of proposed remediation techniques was based upon factors such as contaminant concentration, relative environmental risk, water depths and presence of shoreline, and include removal of sediment by dredging and disposal, in-water conventional and activated carbon capping, shoreline revetments and monitored natural remediation. The scope of the proposed remediation is large and would require more than one season to complete. The budget required to complete the project has been estimated at a preliminary level by Transport Canada to be up to $71 million. Additional design work and procurement will need to be completed to refine cost estimates.”

For its waterlots within the targeted area, Transport Canada provided the City with a preliminary estimate for the project costs of up to $10 million. The report notes that a number of steps in this process have yet to be laid out.

But it was the proposed dredging that all delegates took issue with, citing the impacts that dredging could have on water quality, wildlife, and flora and fauna, in brief. Furthermore, delegates questioned the idea of transporting said contaminated sediment to another, unspecified area.

Final delegate Laurel Claus-Johnson spoke openly about the issues the proposal raises from her standpoint – a case that encompassed the points of all the other delegates in a concise and poignant manner.

“My concerns that I bring forward today have to do with dredging. They also have to relate to the former delegate that I had talked with the committee that was set aside to, to discuss this issue. And one of the questions I recall asking that was of concern to me is: What kind of neighbors are City Councillors of Kingston when they talk about picking and dredging and taking things up out of the land here and taking it somewhere else and putting it in somebody else’s territory?” she said, referring briefly to her past delegations against the construction of the now-underway so-called Third Crossing.

“I’m a proponent of what I call the largest healing process that we all know and that we barely acknowledge, which is called Mother Earth/ And she’s doing that now. She actually is doing what she needs to do to make that water safe, to make that place safe for fish and other… animals, and the things that live close to the water like birds, and all of those things that are growing now.”

Claus-Johnson expressed that, unlike her fellow delegates who referred to specific processes and specific impacts those processes may have, her issue with the proposal is bigger picture.

“Mine is much more of a moral question,” she said. “Why is the respect not being given to what’s already occurred in that area of the water by the Mother Earth herself, and how she heals herself, and how she’s made it so that people can swim there and animals can live there and turtles can breed there?”

And when the item finally came before Council for its approval, almost every person around the horseshoe echoed the concerns raised through the delegations.

Will the federal government work with us? If we don’t approve this, will that take us out of this conversation with the federal agencies? How can we move forward when we’re hearing so much about the adverse effects of the proposed dredging? – These were the questions posed by councillors to City Staff.

“Maybe it’s just the way that I read this but it does look as to me on that first blush so, you know, my endorsing it. In the manner that is requested here, it sounds like we’re an enthusiastic supporter of it, where I think what we really want to be is a really engaged participant, because we do have some real serious questions that were raised tonight about the science and about the process,” Deputy Mayor Wayne Hill said.

As Hill discussed whether it was appropriate to move a motion to defer, Mayor Bryan Paterson said it certainly was, but that a motion of deferral was about to be tabled, knowing that Councillor Lisa Osanic had already written a deferral ahead of time.

Osanic presented that motion of deferral, which read as follows:

“That Clause 4 of Report Number 40, received from the CAO (Recommend), be deferred until a special public meeting is hosted by the Environment, Infrastructure and Transportation Policies Committee;
And that Kingston Environment Advisory Forum and a representative(s) from Transport Canada be invited to discuss the plan as Transport Canada knows it today for the Kingston Inner Harbour including the effects on drinking water for human consumption, fish, and wildlife.”

There was then some discussion around the motion to defer, with Councillor Peter Stroud wanting to include the word “swimming” in the motion. While Paterson cautioned that Council may not want to get too wordy with the motion for fear of excluding something, Stroud pushed for the change, which was eventually accepted. Councillor Simon Chapelle then brought up the concept of including some wording around having the Member of Parliament for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, involved in the conversation. Paterson again cautioned about becoming to wordy, and that Gerretsen being a part of the conversation was implied.

Having already spent well over an hour and a half on the report and recommendation (which can be read in full here), Council then called the vote on the motion to defer, which passed unanimously.

City Staff will report back to Council after conveying the deferral to the involved federal agencies.

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