December 9, 2020 – After months of hard work, the $162.5 million-Esquimalt Harbor Remediation Project reached a major milestone earlier this summer with the completion of remediation at the Y-Jetty & Lang Cove site.
Beginning in January 2019, the Y-Jetty & Lang Cove Remediation Project focused on addressing contamination that had accumulated in the harbor seabed after almost 200 years of commercial, military and industrial use. This particular area was home to an operational shipyard from 1893 to 1994, most of that time known as Yarrows. In 1996, these lands were acquired by the Department of National Defence for $1.00.
In its day, Yarrows Shipyard (later Versatile Pacific) was a bustling business, building ships for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canada’s Merchant Marine Service during the Second World War from two separate yards in the harbor, and later vessels for BC Ferries – just to name a few. Regrettably, contamination from activities such as shipbuilding and repair, historical for military operations, and log booming had a severe impact on the health of the harbor environment over the years.
“One of the greatest contributors to contamination at the Y-Jetty site was sandblasting operations, which were used to remove rust and paint from ship hulls,” explained Mike Bodman, Manager of Base Safety & Environment and Esquimalt Harbor Remediation Project Manager. “Unfortunately this work was done at a time when there was very little understanding of the effect it would have on the marine environment, so metals and other toxic ingredients in the paint were allowed to enter the harbor and eventually settled in the seabed.”
Until recently, remnants of this sandblast waste could be seen in the black sand along the shoreline near Y-Jetty in Lang Cove. The area is now filled with clean sand from the Fraser River, just one of the positive improvements that has resulted from this project.
During the remediation of the Y-Jetty & Lang Cove site, over 48,500 cubic metres of sediment was dredged from the seabed, a volume that would fill about 19.5 Olympic sized swimming pools! The sediment that was removed contained an estimated 14,341 tonnes of contaminants (including aluminum, copper, iron, lead and mercury), which is equivalent in mass to approximately 7,164 sports cars. The project team also removed 1,127 tonnes of debris from the sea floor. This debris included metal, timber and concrete from what used to be a marine railway, as well as remnants of old jetty structures. In addition, more than 970 artifacts were recovered, consisting predominately of bottles and tableware. To-date, nearly 215,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediments have been removed from Esquimalt.
The removal of these contaminants will help provide a healthier, more diverse habitat for marine life while also providing economic and environmental benefits to the surrounding community. One of the ways the project team is working to support the recovery of the ecosystem in Esquimalt Harbor is by adding angular rocks to the seabed to encourage kelp growth. Initial surveys have already revealed promising results.
“Drop camera surveys have shown that kelp is recolonizing quite quickly within the project area”, said Bodman. “This is really encouraging as kelp is an important part of a healthy marine ecosystem and ultimately will help support our vulnerable local salmon populations. Kelp re-establishment is an important part of supporting a diverse and sustainable environment in a working harbor, like Esquimalt.”
The Y-Jetty & Lang Cove remediation was also the first remediation project in Esquimalt Harbor to include a comprehensive Indigenous Benefits Plan (IBP) as part of the contract. The IBP was unique in that it targeted training, employment and procurement benefits specifically to the local Esquimalt and Songhees Tribe, in whose territory the work took place. Through the IBP, the prime contractor procured over $1M of goods and services from the Esquimalt and Songhees Tribe in support of the project. In addition, the project created numerous employment and training opportunities for community members. The Y-Jetty & Lang Cove project team was honored and grateful to collaborate with both Esquimalt and Songhees Tribe to successfully establish this IBP. Additionally, over the duration of the project, remediation work across all sites supported approximately 225 jobs in the surrounding Esquimalt community.
Over the next three years, Base Safety & Environment will continue to monitor the project area, reporting their observations to the Department of Fisheries and Ocean. With encouraging signs already being seen throughout the harbor, the team is hopeful the positive results of the remediation project will only continue to grow in the coming months and years.