Dozens of people gathered at a public meeting Wednesday night to hear the cleanup options for a 22-hectare patch of toxic sediment in Thunder Bay's harbour.

Decades of pulp and paper mill pollution caused the mercury-contaminated mess, and it will take years — and millions of dollars — to fix it.

Murray Milne

Thunder Bay resident Murray Milne wants to explore all the options for the harbour cleanup project, before he sets his mind on a conclusion. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Current River resident Murray Milne still needs to consider all the options, but he's leaning toward total removal of the toxic sediment from the harbour.

"I would like to see it gone. That would be the only way to guarantee that it wouldn't have to be monitored or maybe further deterioration in the future."

What are the options?

Capping: Placing clean material on top of the contaminated material to contain and isolate the contaminants. A geotextile (a strong fabric barrier) will support the cap material.

Dredging: Removing contaminated sediment underwater. This procedure needs a machine called a dredge.

Excavating: Using a type of dam, this procedure isolates the material from the water prior to removal. Then, typical earth-moving equipment like excavators, loaders and bulldozers can be used.

If material is removed, options to dispose of it include putting it in a secure landfill, creating a new on-site Confined Disposal Facility or using an existing Confined Disposal Facility at Mission Bay.

Dredging or excavating the sediment are permanent solutions.  Dredging would cost $40-$50 million, and excavating $80-90 million.

Another option — capping — would cost $30-$40 million, and involves covering the contamination with clean material and a strong fabric barrier.

Who will pay?

Whatever the decision, it's unclear who will pay the local share of the expense.

"A lot of the projects are one-third federal, one-third provincial and one-third from the industries.  The problem here is those industries no longer exist,” said Jean Hall-Armstrong, who co-chairs the project's public advisory committee.

Environment Canada has committed to paying the federal portion, and will help figure out who else pays once the community decides which cleanup option to take.  

"Environment Canada has a mandate to deal with contaminated sediment sites in the Great Lakes,” said Environment Canada’s Roger Santiago. “And what we follow is a structure where we'll provide one-third of the funding to have these sites remediated."

roger santiago

Environment Canada's Roger Santiago says the agency will work collaboratively with the community to come up with a payment solution. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

He said the polluter usually pays a portion, but, in this case, the sediment accumulated over decades from a pulp and paper mill that had various owners.

About 40 people attended the public meeting at Lakehead University, including members of the general public, members of the Remedial Action Plan's Public Advisory Committee, representatives from Environment Canada, Ecosuperior, Resolute Forest Products, and Richardson Elevator, which is located across from the polluted site.

Markham-based Cole Engineering presented the options.

thunder bay harbour sludge

A thick layer of pulpy fibrous material like this sample above is suspended in the water at the Thunder Bay North Harbour site. (Jamie Saunders/EcoSuperior)

No matter what is decided upon, an estimated seven-year time line will exist around the project. Extensive public consultations need to be completed before a decision is made. After that, another two years will be required for design, six months for tender, three years for construction, and then six months will be required for verification and project close-out.

EcoSuperior will hold another public information session about the harbour contamination on Thursday night at the Prince Arthur Hotel, between 4-8 p.m.


  • An earlier version of this story reported the cost of dredging or excavating would cost $80-$90 million.
    Mar 20, 2014 2:10 PM ET