City councillors will look to take action as early as tomorrow to deal with possible delays in the Randle Reef remediation project because tender bids are over budget.

But even as councillors will discuss holding an urgent meeting with the provincial and federal governments over the delays, a waterfront advocate is advising calm over the bid results.

The fact the bids have come in over budget and the federal government doesn’t know when it might start isn't a reason to panic, says Chris McLaughlin, who heads the Bay Area Restoration Council, the non-profit that monitors the progress and report back to the public.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt the project,” McLaughin told CBC Hamilton. “Within reason, I don’t see a cause for concern at this point.”

“This is not ‘Randle Reef gate.’”

'We’ve been waiting since 1988. Come on. My hair is going grey waiting.' - Lynda Lukasik, Environment Hamilton

But even if it isn’t time to push the panic button, this is yet another delay for a project that was supposed to box off what is the largest coal tar contamination site in Canada. Construction was expected to start this spring, and crews had started preliminary pile driving for the structure — essentially “building the basement” for the project, McLaughlin says.

But now, that’s all on hold because all of the bids for the project came in over the $138.9 million budget. “All bids received exceeded the budget for this stage of the project,” Environment Canada wrote in an email statement. Officials weren’t officially available to clarify just how far over budget the closest bid was.

Finding the right bidder

“But if it’s millions and millions of dollars over, then that’s a problem,” said Lynda Lukasik from Environment Hamilton. “If they can’t get contractors to do this under budget, then who is going to step up to the plate here?”

“We’ve been waiting since 1988. Come on. My hair is going grey waiting.”

gi-randlereefgraphic-300

The Randle Reef project calls for the construction of a 7.5-hectare containment facility in Hamilton Harbour - but that's all on hold until someone can be found to build it under cost. (Kevin Gamble/CBC, Google Maps)

Representatives from Public Works and Government Services Canada could not be immediately reached to comment on the construction or the bidding process. But McLaughlin says all of the partners involved are “totally committed to the project and to the funding.” It’s all a matter of finding someone who can work under the current plan, not blowing it up or scrambling for more money, he added.

Environment Canada is “open to all suggestions to advance the project,” but says it’s “worth noting” that the option of capping the coal tar was selected after a lengthy study process and extensive consultation.

“Various alternatives were considered, and after careful consideration of environmental, human health and economic factors, the [containment facility] was selected as the most cost-effective means of providing a high degree of environmental protection,” Environment Canada said.

'A huge black eye on the city'

Hear an inside view on the Randle Reef deal

City Manager Chris Murray is the guest speaker at the Bay Area Restoration Council's 2014 Annual General Meeting. He'll be
sharing his insider’s view of the complexities of negotiating the Randle Reef project.

  • When: Monday, June 23
  • Where: The Art Gallery of Hamilton Design Annex at 118 James Street North
  • What time: 6:30 p.m. reception, 7:15 AGM, 7:30 BARC Awards, 7:45 keynote address

Admission is free, and you can RSVP here.

The reef is an underwater mass of coal tar contamination just offshore from U.S. Steel. It is estimated to be the largest coal tar contamination site in Canada. The cleanup project will see the highest concentration of coal tar — about 130,000 cubic metres — put into what is essentially a big steel box called an engineered containment facility. The surrounding contamination — some 500,000 cubic metres — will be dredged into the containment facility.

While it’s all well and good to say everyone involved needs to wait until the right bidder comes around, we run the risk of contaminants from Randle Reef shifting into other parts of the harbour, Lukasik says. “This is a huge black eye on the city.”

Coun. Sam Merulla announced Tuesday that he plans to present a motion on Randle Reef to council on Wednesday. The motion would direct Mayor Bob Bratina to invite representatives from the federal and provincial Governments come to a general issues committee meeting “as soon as possible” to discuss the delay.

The federal government's $46.3-million contribution to the project was announced with much fanfare back in 2012. The Hamilton Port Authority is scheduled to take ownership of the site and use it as a pier once it had been capped as part of the project between the federal and provincial governments, the City of Hamilton, the City of Burlington, U.S. Steel, Halton Region and the port.

U.S. Steel has offered to provide about $14 million worth of steel to the project.