An engineering firm says a part of Thunder Bay's harbour should be dredged to clean up a large toxic mess in Lake Superior.

Studies show a 20-hectare patch of mercury-contaminated sediment sits at the north edge of the harbour, and is up to four metres thick in some spots. The waste is the product of decades of industry along the lakeshore.

Mark Bassingthwaite

During the Wednesday night meeting, engineer Mark Bassingthwaite, who is with Markham-based Cole Engineering, presented options on how to clean up a patch of sediment in Lake Superior, at the north end of Thunder Bay's inner harbour. (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Consultants outlined their recommendations at a public meeting about the Lake Superior cleanup project Wednesday evening. About 30 people attended the event, which was hosted by EcoSuperior.

Engineer Mark Bassingthwaite, who is with Markham-based Cole Engineering, said dredging makes the most sense, factoring in cost and the fact “it ranks very well in terms of [implementation] of the project, [and] the certainty of removing the material from the site.”

The waste would then be transported to an existing secure disposal site owned by the Port Authority at Mission Bay

It has been estimated the cleanup will cost more than $50 million. How that will be paid for is still being discussed.  Up to this point, Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Cascades Paper Group have each funded a third of the cost for remediation efforts.

Assuming funding can be secured, the total project timeline is expected to be seven years.

Industry needs to help out

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)

Thunder Bay resident Paul Filteau said he wants to see the industrial sector take responsibility.

There needs to be “more industry input into cleanup,” he said. “It's not really fair to leave the taxpayers stuck every time industry goes down.”

Reanna Mussato agreed it's a widespread issue among industrial businesses.

“I think it's very important because this isn't the only situation like this,” she said.

“This is everywhere. As long as there's industry, there's going to be cleanup issues.”

Normand Ouellette and daughter

Thunder Bay resident Normand Ouellette brought his daughter to Wednesday night's open house because he wanted her "to see what [industry] used to do, and hopefully we don't do that anymore." (Matt Prokopchuk/CBC)

Normand Ouellette attended the meeting with his seven-year-old daughter.

“You just have to look at her face and you can see how I want her to have a better future,” he said. “If we keep up [the status quo], it's not going to be what we think it's going to be.”

More public meetings are planned by EcoSuperior to gather public input on the project.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story omitted details of previous funding from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Cascades Paper Group, and suggested Environment Canada had already committed its share of future funding.
    Jun 05, 2014 10:20 AM ET