The federal government has pledged a $46.3-million commitment to help clean up one of the largest threats to the health of Hamilton Harbour.

Peter Kent, federal environment minister, announced funding for Randle Reef at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington on Tuesday morning. Randle 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 Harper government is strongly committed to ensuring clean, safe, sustainable water quality for present and future generations," Kent said. "Cleaning up Randle Reef is vital for Hamilton and the region."

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The project calls for the construction of a 7.5-hectare containment facility in Hamilton Harbour. (Kevin Gamble/CBC, Google Maps)

The money represents Canada's commitment to the $138.9-million project, which will see dredging and the worst of the contaminated area encased in a steel containment facility. Environment Canada and the Hamilton Port Authority are doing a test project to best determine how to build the facility.

"When those in the future look back, this is the time and the event that they will say presented a new face for Hamilton to the world," Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina said.  "The water that provided us with our identity will now be restored to the standards of civilization."

The clean up is a joint commitment between the federal and provincial governments, the Hamilton Port Authority, the City of Hamilton, the City of Burlington, U.S. Steel and the Halton Region.

U.S. Steel is contributing 10,000 tonnes of hot rolled steel sheet and an additional 700 tonnes of steel products that will be used in constructing the containment facility.

The project will contribute about 60 jobs per year in the local community. Once the project is completed, the government will remove restrictions on navigating the Hamilton port, which sees about 700 vessels per year, Kent said.

Both local governments and the province have announced an intention to commit their $46.3-million share.

Randle Reef spans about 60 hectares, or 120 football fields, in Hamilton Harbour, and contains about 675,000 cubic metres of heavily contaminated sediment.

"It's the equivalent of filling Copps Coliseum from floor to ceiling three times over," said Ontario Environment Minister Jim Bradley. Finishing it will increase property values and investment in the area, he said.

The government will conduct an environmental assessment of the plan next year. Construction on the 10-year project will likely happen in 2014, Kent said.

Hamilton Harbour has been designated as an area of concern under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This is the beginning of the end of that, Bratina said.

"We are going to grapple with and clean up and remove this toxic designation from our harbour."