The lingering question of what lies buried under Ladysmith’s waterfront has finally been answered — in exhausting detail.
Town council released a series of reports last week detailing the contaminants found in soils and sediments along the rim of the harbour between Transfer Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. The reports, produced by Golder Associates (GA) on behalf of the provincial government, also listed costs of various cleanup options.
Mayor Rob Hutchins put the reports’ findings into context.
“We have a waterfront area plan that was adopted in 1997 that we made a commitment to revisit,” Hutchins said. “Between 2004 and 2006, the town and the province turned to the private sector regarding a development proposal. Unfortunately, most of the players that were shortlisted to provide development proposals stepped aside because of the uncertainty of the environmental costs. There was too big a range. At that time, it was anywhere between $15 and $42 million.”
Following that setback, the town committed itself to a comprehensive analysis of the remediation requirements.
The assessment “took three and a half years and about $450,000 worth of funding” to complete, Hutchins said, and now that council has the information in hand, it will explore various means of addressing the situation.
“Thirty-million tonnes of coal were shipped through Ladysmith Harbour, and it was washed here,” Hutchins said.
Runoff produced from coal washing flowed into the harbour, and the slurry gradually accumulated into a coal-rich blanket of sediment so deep, it runs to an estimated depth of 15 metres in places.
Sediment samples from the harbour were found by GA to contain between three and 78 per cent coal, while samples collected from sites adjacent to the harbour contained between two and 55 per cent coal.
In total, GA estimated the amount of coal slack found in the harbour at between 1.8 and two million tonnes, Hutchins said, adding that the reports suggest it might have commercial value.
“We need to look at other ways to solve this puzzle,” Hutchins said, “and one option to consider is mining it.”
Mining the residual coal might be a more viable remediation option than stabilizing Slack Point to prevent erosion, Hutchins added, but the town will confer with provincial officials before making any decisions.
“This environmental legacy that we’ve had from our earlier industrial days has prevented the full development of the waterfront area and its full utilization by the community,” Hutchins said, “but I wouldn’t want to predict a timeline [for remediation.]”
Ladysmith’s harbour, Hutchins added, is at the top of the provincial government’s list of brownfield sites — abandoned or underutilized commercial or industrial sites with potential for redevelopment — but it’s less of a priority because the sediments aren’t leeching toxins into the environment.
Costs for remediation would be largely determined by the type of development and are currently estimated at $26.8 million for the development options considered for the upland, filled foreshore and marine areas, according to a press release from the town. These costs do not include the costs for addressing the geotechnical stabilization of Slack Point or erosion control along the coastline, it noted.
Hutchins said the cleanup effort will be on council’s agenda in January.
Golder Associates’ reports are available for download online.