January 16/2002

Hamilton Spectator   

City cutting trees on Red Hill banks
by Eric McGuinness

The City of Hamilton is cutting trees on the banks of Red Hill Creek but not so an expressway can be built through the valley.

The trees beside the old Rennie Street dump have to go to make way for an $11-million project to control and capture toxic pesticides, PCBs and other chemicals that have been leaking into the waterway for years.

Scott Stewart, the city’s director of waste management, said some trees are being partially cut so their roots will remain to help protect the banks from erosion. The tops have to go to stop migratory birds from nesting when construction starts in the spring.

Environment Minister Elizabeth Witmer approved the dump remediation without requiring a more thorough review as requested by several citizens. Federal fisheries officials have also approved the work.

Witmer said she considered the city’s study was adequate, but to be sure the public is kept informed, she’s ordered that monthly meetings between staff and a community liaison committee (CLC) be held until the project is complete.

New landfill sites are designed to collect rainwater that seeps through the waste, but garbage was simply dumped into a ravine off Rennie Street on the west side of the creek in the middle of the last century. Leachate is now draining out through the creek bank and erosion has cut the bank back, making the problem worse.

East Hamilton environmentalist Lynda Lukasik took the city to court over the seepage in 1999, resulting in a record fine and penalties of $487,000 plus a September 2000 commitment to stop the pollution. It’s taken until now to get the plans approved.

The idea of digging up the whole dump and moving the waste was rejected, but the expressway route cuts across a corner of the site, so as much as a quarter of the waste will have to be moved if the controversial road is built — and that’s more likely now that a federal court battle has ended.

Lukasik, an ardent expressway opponent, said it’s time to start talking about how the road will affect the dump. “The area where the road is to go is the part that’s had the most detailed sampling and that appears to be the most PCB-contaminated part, and we’ve been told disruption isn’t a good thing.”