The possible rehabilitation of wildlife habitats along Thunder Bay's harbour, damaged by decades of industrial activity, will be on the agenda of a public meeting tonight.
The Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan's (RAP) public advisory committee will host the gathering at Lakehead University, in hopes of bringing forward ideas about how to restore areas that were once important habitats for fish, birds, and other wildlife.
"There are several legacy issues, historic issues, that come into play, contamination issues," Jim Bailey, Thunder Bay RAP coordinator, said of the harbour. "But contamination isn't the only thing."
"The harbour has a history as a working harbour. It's busy with grain elevators, mills, and all manner of industry over the years, and we're hoping that continues," he said. "But those developments and industries have had negative consequences for things like a couple of the wetlands that once existed along the shoreline."
Bailey referred to some areas of the shoreline as being "hardened," meaning there are hundreds of metres or steel sheet piling or cement embankments along them, which are used to retain the shoreline.
"Those areas along the shoreline used to be some of the most productive areas with regard to habitat," he said. "What we're talking about is habitat for anything from birds, plants, animals, fish — the shoreline was the most productive area. And these areas of hardened shoreline have basically obliterated that habitat."
The meeting tonight will hopefully bring up some ideas as to which former habitat areas could be rehabilitated, and how to best do that.
"I can think of a former wetland near the former Northern Wood Preservers facility, near the former Pool 6 property," Bailey said. "That wetland was encroached upon by industry over the years. There still is a bit of a remnant of that wetland — lots of birds in there, animals."
"We're hoping to identify areas like that [tonight], where people come to the table with ideas as to how we might revitalize little pockets of land like that along the waterfront."
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Tonight's meeting comes a day after Ontario's NDP chastised the provincial government for its inaction on cleaning up mercury contamination in Thunder Bay's north harbour.
"Under the water in Thunder Bay's North Harbour, there is massive mercury contamination that is the result of decades of discharge from a paper mill that closed a long time ago," NDP Northern Development and Mines critic Michael Mantha said during question period on Tuesday morning. "Imagine, nearly 400,000 cubic metres of soggy paper towels full of mercury covering over 50 football fields worth of lakebed."
In a media release, the NDP stated that the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change presented a report in 2014 which said a plan to clean up the area was coming.
"Three years ago, we were promised an action plan," Mantha said in the release. "Three years later, we're still waiting."
Tonight's meeting will also include a presentation on the history of the harbour by Thunder Bay historian Bill Skrepichuk.
The meeting gets underway at 7, and is open to the public.
It will take place in room 3004 of Lakehead University's Advanced Technology and Academic Centre (ATAC) building. Admission, and parking, are free.
The meeting will also be livestreamed through infosuperior.com.