September 3-10, 2007

Ontario earmarks $1.5M to complete St Lawrence River cleanup at Cornwall

The Ontario government is committing more than $1.5 million to complete the environmental cleanup of the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, one of four sites specifically targeted for complete remedial action in the recently-signed 2007 Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA) (EcoWeek August 20-27, 2007).

The cleanup work will include monitoring sediment contamination, assessing the impacts of the contamination and restoring fish and wildlife habitat. Projects for Cornwall to be funded through the COA include preparing a report to the International Joint Commission (IJC) that will detail remedial actions and will recommend that the area be removed from the Commission's list of Areas of Concern (AOCs).

Sediment in the area has been contaminated by local discharges of heavy metals, including mercury, into the St Lawrence River from industrial operations along the Cornwall waterfront over a period of more than 70 years. Although these discharges have ceased, remaining environmental issues must be dealt with before the area can be removed from the list of AOCs.

Other environmental issues of concern in the area include contamination of water and fish (as well as sediments) with mercury, PCBs and other contaminants of concern; bacterial contamination leading to beach postings; habitat destruction and degradation; excessive growth of nuisance aquatic plants; exotic species; and fish and wildlife health impacts. Contaminants have also entered the St Lawrence River environment from the upper river and Lake Ontario, from local industrial and municipal discharges, urban stormwater, agricultural runoff and other diffuse sources such as air deposition.

"We are going to continue to support the local St Lawrence Restoration Council in co-ordinating implementation of the Remedial Action Plan in Cornwall," said Stormont-Dundas-Charlottenburgh MPP Jim Brownell. "And we will also continue our involvement with the Raisin Region Conservation Authority to incorporate its Natural Heritage Strategy and a fisheries habitat management plan into municipal land-use plans.

Remedial projects include:

*implementing the Cornwall sediment management strategy and a long-term sediment monitoring plan;

*working with the city of Cornwall to compile a list of priority sewer and stormwater projects;

*completing an assessment of uses of the river that have been impaired by pollution and developing a long-term monitoring plan;

*monitoring fisheries and reporting on Lake St Francis;

*developing plans to secure and restore important wetlands; and

*implementing of an osprey monitoring program.

These activities are part of a comprehensive Remedial Action Plan (RAP) for the St Lawrence River (Cornwall) AOC. Developed by the federal and provincial governments, with input from the Mohawks of Akwesasne and the Cornwall Public Advisory Committee, the plan details 64 recommended remedial actions, including dealing with contaminated sediment, to restore environmental conditions in this AOC. Most actions have been completed or are in progress.

The St Lawrence (Cornwall) AOC encompasses a stretch of the St Lawrence River approximately 60 kilometres long, from the Moses-Saunders power dam (just upstream of Cornwall) to the eastern outlet of Lake St Francis in Quebec. It is a complex jurisdictional area involving Canada, the U.S., Ontario, Quebec, New York State and Mohawks of Akwesasne interests.

In 2005, the governments released a Cornwall Sediment Strategy, which outlines a long-term management plan for historically contaminated sediments in three zones of the St Lawrence River at Cornwall. The product of a unique collaboration involving community partners, environmental groups and federal, provincial, municipal and Mohawk governments, the strategy calls for continued natural recovery, combined with administrative controls, and long-term monitoring for managing the contaminated sediments. It is based on a thorough review of 30 years of environmental data and studies of the potential for the mercury in sediment to accumulate and magnify in the food chain, sediment stability and sediment management options.

The environmental data and recent studies show that mercury concentrations in sediments have decreased over the last 30 years. Contaminated areas are being covered over naturally with cleaner sediments and the deposits are stable.

The data and studies show that the contaminated sediments:

*are not toxic to sediment-dwelling organisms or to fish;

*are not a major source of mercury to fish in the area through the food chain;

*do not pose a risk to people or the environment;

*do not pose a risk to swimmers along the waterfront; and

*are not the cause of elevated levels of mercury in walleye in the Lake St Francis and Cornwall area.

An assessment of sediment management options showed no environmental benefit from dredging or capping, because mercury in sediment along the Cornwall waterfront is not a major contributor to mercury in fish.

To ensure sediments are not disturbed by human activities, seven participating agencies developed an administrative controls protocol. The purpose of this protocol is to harmonize the various planning, approval and permit control mechanisms that municipal, provincial and federal governments and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne can apply to regulate activities along the river. It includes a review process, led by the Raisin Region Conservation Authority, for regulating activities with the potential to disturb sediments. In addition, Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment have a long-term monitoring strategy that includes comprehensive environmental monitoring to ensure conditions continue to improve.

The new COA commits the two governments to make significant progress towards cleaning up all 15 AOCs around the Great Lakes. Ontario Environment Minister Laurel Broten said the province has committed more than $30 million for COA for projects around the Great Lakes.

Ontario's financial support for environmental remediation projects can go far beyond the commitments within the COA, Broten added. She cited Randle Reef in Hamilton Harbour as an example, noting that while the COA helped fund engineering studies for remediation of contaminated sediment, the provincial government has now committed $30 million outside of the COA towards the actual remediation project.

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