Hope surfaces at one of Hamilton's worst environmental blights

The Randle Reef remediation project is now well underway.

Randle Reef clean-up now well underway

The Randle Reef remediation is expected to finish in 2022. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The waters around Pier 15 in Hamilton Harbour are lifeless. Decades of pollution at Randle Reef have taken their toll, leaving the area barren, and full of toxic sludge.

But now, work is underway to change that, as crews have begun the remediation of the worst coal tar contaminated site in Canada.

The project is on-time and on-budget, said Jon Gee, the manager of Great Lakes areas of concern for Environment and Climate Change Canada. Reporters were invited to the Randle Reef site near U.S. Steel for the first time Wednesday, to see the containment box that's being built around the spill.

"There's almost nothing that lives in there," Gee said. "It's extremely toxic."

The Randle Reef site is about 60 hectares in size — that's about 120 football fields. It contains around 695,000 cubic metres of sediment contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and other toxic chemicals.

The spill originates from a coal gasification plant that was in the city back in the 1800s, and was compounded by years of industry pollution.

"This area of the harbour was used basically as a dump for industry," Gee said.

After years as an environmental blight, the agreed-upon remediation project is building a 6.2 hectare containment facility on top of the most contaminated part of the sediment, then dredging and sucking the rest of the sediment into the containment box.

The sediment will then covered by a multi-layered environmental cap, which will be paved over and handed over to the Hamilton Port Authority. The cost for the project is pegged for just under $139 million.

The project is scheduled to be completed by 2022. Gee says that the hope is that shortly after, insects and plant life at the bottom of the food chain will start showing up in the water again, and that other wildlife will soon follow.