Town Beach contamination concerns brought forward as waterfront development project progresses
Tim Brody - Editor
Sioux Lookout resident Greg Hlady hopes the Municipality of Sioux Lookout will reconsider moving ahead at this time with its waterfront development project.
Hlady recently presented Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance with photographs taken in April and May of the Farlinger Park (town beach) waterfront and water samples he took there.
“The different sampling that I’ve done over the last number of years (and earlier this spring) have shown LNAPLs in the samples consistently, so those are Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid that float on the water indicative of something pretty nasty coming from that site. You could say that vegetable oil is an LNAPL as well, but in this case you have the context of the site,” he shared.
In a report presented to Sioux Lookout Municipal Council on March 21, 2018, former municipal CAO Ann Mitchell shared, “Since the fire in 1987 and resultant spill of the fuel from a CN train there has been a period of ongoing issues.”
Mitchell further informed in her report to council, “In 1987 there was a fire that occurred on CN lands that released approximately 600,000 litres of NAPL (Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid is a groundwater contaminant that is not soluble in water and has lower density than water) in the area. Corrective action took place which drew some of the NAPL out of the ground however there is still a considerable amount in the area. This NAPL has proven to be stationary but the problem is the groundwater that flows through it.”
“As the responsibility of the cleanup initiative falls on CN they will bear the cost of all cleanup efforts. No financial implications for the ratepayers.”
In a previous interview with The Bulletin, Hlady alleged that highly carcinogenic compounds have been detected on the beach.
He further alleged, through his own research, and that of fellow Sioux Lookout resident Remi Lorteau, creosote railway ties had been burned in the same area the fuel spilled.
A public meeting was held on April 5, 2018, at the heritage train station for members of the public to learn more about the contamination which has affected the town beach for several years now.
A sheen was observed along the town beach shoreline in 2011, 2015, and 2016, resulting in beach closures.
At the public meeting, municipal staff, representatives from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Northwestern Health Unit, CN Rail, and project consultants were all slated to be on hand to speak with the public about the contamination, as well as the Municipality’s waterfront redevelopment project.
The public were informed the sheen at the town beach was biogenic in nature.
Information presented at the public meeting explained, “The sheen at the beach is not petroleum sheen, rather it is a biogenic sheen that is caused by naturally occurring bacteria growing on iron from minerals in the ground. The iron content in the ground is higher in this area partly due to conditions that allow more iron to dissolve from minerals. This condition is contributed to by the breakdown of the petroleum spill upgradient from the beach. The biogenic sheen is also present in other parts of the lake.”
It was explained biogenic sheen occurs when the soil is both rich in iron and low in oxygen.
The public were also informed, based upon water samples collected from the lake; this biogenic sheen is not harmful to humans.
To address this biogenic sheen, engineers planned to use a technique call biosparging.
Eric Nichols, an expert in petroleum clean-up, was contacted by CN Rail to join a panel of experts to advise CN on the situation at the town beach.
At last year’s public meeting he told The Bulletin, “The sheen at the beach, through investigation, we’ve figured out that it’s being caused by excess iron that dissolved in groundwater. Iron is naturally occurring. It’s just being dissolved off the natural rocks and sediments. It’s dissolving more here because of the presence of petroleum inland. The petroleum biodegrades and it creates a condition that allows more iron to dissolve. What we’re trying to do is reduce the iron content of the groundwater before it gets to the lake. Bacteria actually love that iron. When that iron hits the lakeshore, they grow. They create a biomass that becomes a sheen. Basically the sheen you see at the lake is the kind of sheen you’d see in a bog, or a marsh. You see it a lot around here. It’s an iridescent sheen. It’s actually not petroleum it’s microbes, essentially.”
He further explained, “So, to get rid of that iron, one of the most reliable ways to do that is to combine it with oxygen. Iron and oxygen make rust. And in fact, you see that kind of rusty colour sediment along the lakeshore. That’s the iron coming in with the groundwater and then becoming rust and coating the rocks. So we basically want to do that underground, inland, before it can happen at the lake.
“We’ve created this curtain of injection wells and there’s a long row of these, very closely spaced, that are going to be hidden underground below the boardwalk of this beach redevelopment and they are going to slowly bubble air into the sub-surface, and that air brings in oxygen. That oxygen dissolves into the groundwater and it reacts with the iron and makes the iron drop out as small particles of rust. The idea is to do that underground before it ever gets to the lake. We create a long line of these wells, very closely spaced, so that nothing slips past. The whole thing is intended to operate year-round. The iron is treated, but if there is any dissolved petroleum, we don’t believe there’s much if any there anymore, oxygen also helps biodegrade the petroleum.”
Biosparging testing has been taking place at the town beach.
Nichols added when speaking with The Bulletin, “The air compressor is going to be on the other side of Wellington Street in an enclosure. There will be an underground pipe that brings the air under Wellington Street to each of these wells, but all that’s buried. You’ll never see it. You’ll never hear it.”
Daniel Salvatore, CN manager of Public Affairs Ontario, told The Bulletin at the public meeting that CN would be paying for the cost of operating the compressor.
He added, “What is being presented here today will be paid for by CN.”
Mitchell confirmed at the time that CN would pay for the remediation process.
Hlady served as an environmental specialist for 20 years with the Department of Indian Affairs, now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
“I was the environmental specialist for the province for the northern region,” he added. “I was the review officer that would review all of the consult’s work, all of the scientist’s work.”
He said of the biosparging measure, “That’s not a solution at all, that could be used as an interim measure to control some site conditions, but it’s not a remediation method.” He further stated, “If you look at what I’ve collected in terms of the photographs in terms of the sampling, it’s just not capturing any of those contaminants and those contaminants are breaking out further around the bay.”
Hlady added, “These photos and sampling just prove it’s no better than it was last year or the year before.”
“Last year, in their public meeting, they did not acknowledge that the LNAPLs were getting into the lake, which I have proven over and over again.
“I spoke to the technicians this year at the site, and I told them I was collected LNAPLs in the samples, so they should have reported that back and there should have been further investigation to sample that material and I don’t know whether there was or not. We need to know the results of that,” he said.
“Being so close to the Municipal water intake, this is a danger in my mind,” Hlady added.
As a taxpayer, he said he is concerned about the Municipality’s waterfront development project moving forward.
“I know that that site, to be properly cleaned up, needs to be excavated and moved out, all of that material.
That’s a site where kids, toddlers, children and many other human receptors and animal receptors frequent.”
He said, in his opinion, the site should have been fenced off and made inaccessible to the public.
The Bulletin asked Mayor Lawrance and the Municipality if they had received Hlady’s photographs and sampling results and if they might have any impact on the waterfront development project moving forward.
“Staff have been and continue to work on moving the Farlinger Park/Town Beach project forward,” Lawrance shared in an email. “They have been working with various parties including the primary design firm for the new developments, the government funding agencies to obtain an extension on the funding through to the end of 2020, and the agencies involved in the environmental issue, including: Public Health, Ministry of Environment, our own environmental consultant, and CN.”
He continued, “With reference to Mr. Hlady’s photographs and samples, staff have forwarded the information to the consultant for review and feedback. It is neither my place nor expertise to comment directly on Mr. Hlady’s submissions. That role is Staff’s and the various agencies and consultants engaged on this work. Council will be provided information and necessary reports as the information is available and developed by Staff and others engaged. At this point, Council is satisfied with the update provided by Staff in April of this year (see Staff Report No. RP-2019-054, available on our Corporate Documents website: https://siouxlookout.civicweb.net/document/18833), and envisions the project progressing as outlined in that Report, unless Staff recommend otherwise to Council.”
Lawrance informed that municipal staff are in the process of organizing an open house in the next two months to display the Farlinger Park redevelopment plans and answer any questions that the public may have.
Council has awarded the contract for the design, supply and installation of a new floating dock system to Kropf Industrial Inc.
According to Staff Report No. RP-2019-054, tendering for the project’s buildings and landscaping was to get underway in May.
The report stated work at the town beach would be on hold through June and July until the air sparging system is complete.
Buildings and landscaping work was then scheduled from August through to July of 2020.
The project will include a washroom/administration building, a designated swimming zone, a new outdoor stage, a kayak kiosk, play structures, lighting, signage, and a boardwalk. The cenotaph would be moved to the boardwalk as part of the project.
In addition to landscaping, the project will also include sewer main replacement, water services, parking lot work, and an abutment for the floating dock system.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation has committed a million dollars to the project, as has FedNor. The Municipality of Sioux Lookout has allocated $898,000 for the project.
“The actual project costs won’t be known until the project is complete,” the Municipality informed The Bulletin. “The Municipality’s portion of the project will be funded through long-term debt.”