New Edinburgh residents take fight over sewage tunnel dig site to City Hall

Angry residents of Ottawa's New Edinburgh neighbourhood descended on the mayor's office Wednesday to protest a plan to use Stanley Park as an excavation portal for the city's pricey new sewage storage tunnel.

People living near Stanley Park fear noise, truck traffic once excavation begins

Dozens of New Edinburgh residents protested outside the mayor's office at Ottawa City Hall on Jan. 25. They're angry about a plan to excavate a sewage storage tunnel from a portal in Stanley Park. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Angry residents of Ottawa's New Edinburgh neighbourhood descended on the mayor's office Wednesday to protest a plan to use Stanley Park as an excavation portal for the city's pricey new sewage storage tunnel.

The $232-million project is the centrepiece of a multipronged effort aimed at nearly eliminating the flow of sewage into the Ottawa River.

Construction on the tunnel began last fall near Kent Street and Highway 417 following six years of planning. A portion of the riverside park near the confluence of the Ottawa and Rideau rivers is slated to become a site for extracting rock this March.

But some residents of New Edinburgh say they only became aware of the possible impact of construction during a meeting in October.

"Since then, we've been trying to find out the extent of what can happen in New Edinburgh," said Victoria Henry.

A city memo circulated in December describes between four and eight heavy trucks travelling to and from Stanley Park each hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during peak periods. The construction is expected to last two-and-a-half years.

"To our horror, every time we learn a bit more, it becomes more and more serious about our ability to even stay in our homes in some cases," Henry said.

'Very serious consequences'

Henry was one of several dozen people who demanded a meeting with Mayor Jim Watson. Watson told reporters he has no problem meeting with the group, and later Wednesday a spokeswoman said his office is trying to organize a get-together "in the coming weeks."

Following Wednesday's council meeting Watson told reporters he's asking New Edinburgh residents to deal with some inconvenience, as other parts of the city have during different construction projects, for the sake of a project that serves a greater good.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson's chief of staff, Serge Arpin, speaks with New Edinburgh resident Victoria Henry. (Kate Porter/CBC)

But that did little to satisfy the protesters.

"The issue is not inconveniencing a group of disgruntled tree huggers and dog lovers," said Santiago Reyes-Borda, who's lived in the area since 1989. "There are very serious consequences that need to be taken into consideration." 

Residents want more evidence about how noise and vibration from the excavation might affect people's health, and details about how they'll be warned of excessive noise.

"That's why we're asking to consider moving the extraction site to a far less densely populated site like LeBreton," said Reyes-Borda.

Moving dig costly

Watson said the city looked at shifting the project to LeBreton Flats or Bordeleau Park, across the Rideau River from Stanley Park, but found that such a move would add as much as $30 million to the cost of the project.
Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum told residents he'll seek ways to mitigate the project's impact. (CBC)

According to the December memo, such a move would also risk slowing the construction schedule of the contract awarded to Tomlinson Dragados Joint Venture.

The councillor for New Edinburgh, Tobi Nussbaum, admitted it would be a political challenge to justify such a cost.

No one is questioning that a shaft must be built in New Edinburgh, said Nussbaum, but he's not convinced the bulk of excavation has to happen in a residential area.

"The city needs to do everything it can to mitigate the impacts of this project on a community that's really bearing the brunt on behalf of the whole city," said Nussbaum.

Mitigating measure could involve hours of construction and trucking routes, he said.

As for residents' frustration about a lack of consultation, Nussbaum said information sessions were held between 2010 and 2013, but in areas far from New Edinburgh.
Two intersecting tunnels, each three metres in diameter, will be built underground to store sewage and storm water, preventing it from spilling into the Ottawa River. The orange, numbered circles represent sites where construction may be noticeable at street level. No. 5 is Stanley Park. (City of Ottawa)