May 7 2003

Kingston Whig-Standard   May 7/2003

Belle Park ‘playground’ called safe

by Jennifer Pritchett

Children who frolic through a manmade marsh built at Belle Park to filter contaminants aren’t in any danger, environment officials say.

The artificial wetland, which floats atop the shallow waters of the Cataraqui River on the north shore of the park, is designed to naturally cleanse garbage juice leaking into the river from the old municipal dump.

Last weekend’s warm temperatures saw children venturing out into the anti-pollution swamp, which resembles a series of tethered mattresses floating on the river inside a mesh fence.

Barefoot and shirtlesss, two young boys hopped from mattress to mattress through the marsh.

“[Belle Park] is a popular spot for lots of the local kids and they tromp around the site and get into all kinds of mischief,” Paul MacLatchy, the city’s environment engineer, told The Whig-Standard yesterday.

He said the two main contaminants in the area, iron and ammonia, are more hazardous to aquatic life than to humans.

“The iron is more of a threat to the the fish and snails and clams,” he said.

“The iron itself is not considered toxic to people. The ammonia is not a risk to people. It’s a risk to fish.

“But it’s not the best place for kids to play. It’s not what it’s designed for.”

While MacLatchy was unaware of any problems with children playing on the marsh mattresses in the swamp, he said vandalism has been an ongoing concern at Belle Park.

“It’s a big golf course so you can’t gate it off. We’re inviting people to use it not just as a golf course, but as somewhat of a natural area where they can walk dogs and so forth and enjoy the views. Along with that comes the nighttime mischief.”

Contractors last month finished the first part of the 70-metre by 35-metre swamp that consists of burlap bags filled with peat moss and other organic materials that will spawn the growth of a wetland with cattails and other plant life indigenous to marshes.

The manmade swamp is one of the technologies the city is studying as part of its long-term solution to manage the site.

The municipality is still locked in a court battle with the Ontario Environment Ministry after a citizens’ group, the Environmental Bureau of Investigation, laid pollution charges in 1997.

The city was convicted of allowing contaminants to leak out of the old dump into the river but appealed. The court hasn’t yet made a decision on the appeal.

By the spring of 2004, the city should know if the experimental swamp will purify the fluid that oozes out of the former dump as water percolates through the ground.

Steven Rose, whose company, Malroz Engineering, just completed the 2,500-square-metre wetland for the City of Kingston, said the area may not be a safe place for children to play.

He agreed with MacLatchy that it doesn’t contain contaminants that are harmful to people.

“I don’t think there’s anything that might be hazardous out there,” he said.

Rose admits that the site, with its numerous burlap mattresses, may be an attractive place for adventurous young children to explore.

“I can see that it might be hard to resist for them,” he said.

The manmade swamp, a unique way of tackling contamination never before used in the Kingston area, is based on a concept that three Queen’s students designed in 1999.

The students came up with a “tea-bag-type thing” that was filled mainly with peat and cocoa fibre strategically placed to filter pollutants from runoff before it entered the river, said Vicki Remenda, associate professor of geological sciences and geological engineering and the students’ faculty adviser.

“When they worked on designing it, there were a lot of people who were excited about what they’d achieved,” she said.

“It was an opportunity to provide a novel way of remediating groundwater, because it’s very difficult to clean up, very expensive, very labour and time intensive. We had suggested to them that they should start a business but they weren’t quite ready for it.”

The three former students on the project were Marie Wardman, Susan Pfister and Allison Wolfe.

Wardman, who works for an environmental company in Markham, told The Whig yesterday that her team was looking for an inexpensive way to combat the contamination of groundwater.

“What we were hoping to use it for was on river banks where we knew there was contaminated water feeding a lake, a river or a stream,” she said. “We would put what was basically a blanket that would filter out the contaminate from the groundwater before it entered the stream.

“I think it’s wonderful that they’re trying it out to see if it’s possible.”

The city currently uses pumps to divert groundwater oozing out of the dump to the municipal sewer system at a considerable cost.