Understanding Randle Reef
Hamilton Harbour is home to the largest and
most contaminated site within the Canadian
side of the Great Lakes – Randle Reef.
Hamilton Harbour is the western tip of Lake Ontario, separated naturally from the lake by a sandbar known as the Beach Strip. It is the largest naturally protected harbour on western Lake Ontario. Industry, commerce and residential areas, along with private and public open spaces share its 45 kilometre shoreline. The Harbour’s watershed covers more than 500 square kilometres and is drained by three major tributaries – Grindstone, Spencer and Red Hill creeks. The cities of Hamilton and Burlington, with a combined population of 750,000 people, are located within and around the watershed. In 1985, the Harbour was identified as an Area of Concern under the Canada–United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to significant impairment of water quality, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, and contaminated sediment and fish and wildlife populations. While many improvements have been made to reduce pollution in the Harbour, the legacy problem of contaminated sediment remains.
Located in the southwest corner of Hamilton Habour, the Randle Reef site is approximately 60 hectares (or about 120 football fields) in size. The site contains approximately 695,000 cubic metres of sediment contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other toxic chemicals. It is the largest PAH-contaminated sediment site on the Canadian Great Lakes. The contamination is often described as “a spill in slow motion” due to the continuing slow spread of contaminants across the Harbour floor and uptake into the food chain of the Harbour ecosystem. PAH contamination at Randle Reef is a legacy of a variety of past industrial processes dating back to the 1800s. There were multiple sources of contamination including coal gasification, petroleum refining, steel making, municipal waste, sewage and overland drainage.
The site was identified as a principal target of Harbour restoration objectives in the late 1980s. Studies were conducted over several years to determine possible options for cleaning up the site. In 2002, a Project Advisory Group reached an agreement to explore the idea of containing and capping the sediment. An environmental assessment, project designs, and the quest to secure funding soon followed.
The Randle Reef sediment remediation project involves constructing a 6.2 hectare engineered containment facility (ECF) on top of a portion of the most contaminated sediment, then dredging and placing the remaining contaminated sediment in the facility. The facility will be made of double steel sheet pile walls with the outer walls being driven to depths of up to 24 metres into the underlying sediment. The inner and outer walls will be sealed creating an impermeable barrier. The sediment will then be covered by a multi-layered environmental cap.
Cleaning up Randle Reef is one of the most significant steps remaining to remediate Hamilton Harbour and remove it from the list of Areas of Concern. The project will reduce the amount and spread of contaminants through the Harbour, significantly improving water quality and fish and wildlife habitat. The Harbour will also experience economic and social benefits: enhancement of shipping and port facilities, increased recreational opportunities and the promotion of the Harbour community as a clean and progressive place to live and work.
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The Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC) created and maintains this website to promote the Randle Reef Environmental Containment Facility project and provide our community with updated information about the project. For information about BARC’s role with the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan, visit the BARC website or email us.
The official Environment Canada Project Lead responsible for the construction of the Randle Reef Environmental Containment Facility can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The remediation plan involves construction of a 6.2 hectare Engineered Containment Facility (ECF) over 140,000 m3 of sediment most highly contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals. Building the facility in this location ensures that the most toxic sediment will not be disturbed. Approximately 445,000 m3 of contaminated sediment surrounding the ECF will be dredged and placed inside the facility for a total containment of 585,000 m3. Another 110,000 m3 of less contaminated sediments will be capped using both thin layer capping and isolation capping techniques, for a grand total of 695,000 m3 of sediment being managed. The project will remove more than 99% of the PAH mass from the area. The total volume of sediment would fill Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre (formerly Copps Coliseum) three times.
PHASE 1, Construction of the ECF structure and dredging between the double sheet pile walls, construction completed to date:
- The seawall at Pier 15 at the foot of Sherman Avenue was rebuilt in 2015.
- Double steel sheet pile walls were installed during 2016 and 2017 to create the perimeter of the ECF structure. These structures were built prior to dredging activities; the outer wall providing structural stability and the inner wall providing isolation of the contaminated sediment from the surrounding Harbour environment. The interlocks between sheet piles on the inner wall were sealed creating an impermeable barrier.
- The sediment between the ECF’s inner and outer walls was mechanically dredged with sediment disposal inside the ECF. Remaining sediment was removed using a high solids pump. The space between the walls was filled with clean crushed rock.
PHASE 2, Dredging of the contaminated sediment located outside of the ECF, 2018-2019:
- Production dredging (of sediment beyond the footprint of ECF). A cutter suction hydraulic dredge will make two passes along the bottom of the Harbour to reduce the possibility of leaving behind contaminants. Areas that exceed a predetermined PAH value after two passes will be covered by a thin layer of sand. A discharge pipeline carries the newly dredged sediment from the dredge pump into the EFC. The pipeline carrying the sediment is submerged in the EFC to reduce the possibility of toxins transferring from the sediment to the air. It is anticipated that the facility will reach capacity with 99.7% of contaminants being collected.
PHASE 3, Capping of the contaminated sediment in the ECF, 2020-2022:
- The sediment inside the EFC will be dewatered through gravity and polymer-assisted settling.
- That waste water will be treated by an on-site water treatment system using sand filtration and granular activated adsorption. Treated water will be thoroughly tested and safely discharged into Hamilton Harbour.
- The Stelco channel will be capped. A channel between the EFC and the Stelco property requires an environmental cap to contain toxic sediment that cannot be removed by dredging. A 60cm thick cap consisting of sand with silt and total enriched organic carbon will be layered above the sediment.
- Installation of the EFC cap consisting of layers of several materials which include aggregates of various sizes, geo-textile and geo-grid, wickdrains, and surface materials (asphalt and/or concrete), placed sequentially from bottom to top. The layers in the cap serve various purposes, including isolating the contaminated dredged sediment from the environment and a base foundation for port structures.
Upon completion of the project, the Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) will accept ownership of the facility and be responsible for monitoring, maintaining and developing the site as port facilities. The facility is expected to have a 200-year life span.
Hamilton Spectator, March 30, 2005
1986 to 1992The Canadian and Ontario governments lead the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) preparation for Hamilton Harbour and submit it to the International Joint Commission (IJC).
1992 to 1996A study is completed which describes possible options for cleaning up the Randle Reef sediment.
Early 1995Randle Reef Remediation Steering Committee, which includes Environment Canada (EC), Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Hamilton Port Authority (HPA) is formed...
Mid 1997Stelco suggests forming a not-for-profit corporation to manage the Randle Reef clean-up, including the use of the Stelco plant for part of the treatment process.
December 1999The option of using a Stelco plant is presented at a public open house. Based on public feedback it is concluded it is not a viable clean-up option.
2000EC establishes a Technical Steering Committee (later re-named the Project Advisory Group), to further explore options for cleaning-up the sediment at Randle Reef.
April 2002EC-led Project Advisory Group reaches a consensus on a “contain and cap” solution for cleaning-up Randle Reef.
May 2003EC-led Project Advisory Group reaches a consensus on a “contain and cap” solution for cleaning-up Randle Reef
August 2003HPA receives seven proposals from engineering consulting firms in response to the Request for Proposals for design of the Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project.
December 2012“Today, I am delighted to announce $46.3 million in Government of Canada funding to clean up Randle Reef in Hamilton Harbour...
June 2013Canada’s Environment Minister, Peter Kent, signs off on the federal Environmental Assessment.
September 2013A very important and final Randle Reef Remediation Project milestone is reached: all legal agreements to fund and start the clean-up project have been reached.
January 2014Tendering System (GETS) beings. Government presents project contacts to various engineering companies.
September 2015Pile driving the new sheet wall at Pier 15 with the vibratory hammer. Rebuilding the Pier will provide the base of operations for the entire Randle Reef containment project.
October 2015Anchors for the new sheet pile wall during reconstruction of Pier 15. Rebuilding the Pier will provide the base of operations for the entire Randle Reef containment project.
April 2016The first loads of interlocking steel sheet piles are delivered, possibly the most famous and anticipated cargo shipment in or out of Hamilton Harbour in last 100 years!
June 2016Turbidity monitoring buoy inside the ECF structure. Environment Canada and Climate Change will be monitoring water and air quality throughout construction and dredging.
August 2016Phase 1 of the Randle Reef Environmental Containment Facility involves the in-water construction of the double steel walls. The second half of this initial phase of the project will occur in the summer of 2017.
Randle Reef Resources
Review the articles below for all of the latest Randle Reef resources.
Podcast on the Randle Reef project and its meaning to the community, 2017Randle Reef Update
Television clip describing the completion of the first half of Randle Reef construction, 2016Half of Randle Reef Construction Completed
News article describing the completion of the first half of Randle Reef construction, 2016Federal Announcement of the Start of Randle Reef Cleanup
News article of the media launch of the Randle Reef project, 2016Politicians Cheer Start of Randle Reef Cleanup
News article describing the completion of the first half of Randle Reef construction, 2016Randle Reef Set to Begin
News article on the pending start of Randle Reef construction, 2016Randle Reef Update
Television video clip with a Randle Reef update, 2016Randle Reef Remediation Plan Panels
Remediation Project plan summary including design renderings, maps & photographs, 2013Capturing the Blob at Randle Reef
News article highlighting the chronology of the Randle Reef Remediation Project, 2013Randle Reef Step Forward
Press release by the federal government and other project partners, 2013Randle Reef Resolution
BARC op-ed in the Hamilton Spectator celebrating the procurement of all the funds necessary to begin the Randle Reef Remediation Project, 2012
Frequently Asked Questions
Located in the southwest corner of Hamilton Harbour, the Randle Reef site is approximately 60 hectares (120 football fields) in size. The site contains approximately 695,000 cubic meters of sediment contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) – highly toxic chemicals – and heavy metals. PAH contamination at Randle Reef is a legacy from a variety of past industrial processes dating back to the 1800s.
The Randle Reef sediment remediation project involves constructing an engineered containment facility (EFC) around and on top of a portion of the most contaminated sediment in the Harbour, then dredging (scooping out) and placing the remaining contaminated sediment surrounding the structure, inside. The facility will be made of double steel sheet pile walls to provide structure and to prevent toxins from leaching out into the Harbour.
Environment Canada, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Port Authority, U. S. Steel Canada, the City of Burlington, and the Regional Municipality of Halton are all working together on the Randle Reef sediment remediation project.
The Government of Canada: $46.3 million
The Province of Ontario: $46.3 million
The City of Hamilton: $14 million
U.S. Steel Canada: $14 million
Hamilton Port Authority: $14 million
The City of Burlington: $2.3 million
Halton Region: $2 million
Environment Canada will serve as project lead for the Randle Reef project. All project contracts and their implementation will be managed by Public Works and Government Services Canada.
Work is expected to begin in 2015 with the re-construction of an adjacent pier which is necessary to permit dredging of the contaminated sediments in this area. This is to be followed by construction of and Engineered Containment Facility (ECF) on top of the most highly contaminated sediment. Between 2017 -2019, approximately 445,000 cubic meters of contaminated sediment will be dredged and placed within the ECF. Between 2020-2022, an environmental cap will be placed on the ECF to isolate the contaminants and provide port use.
Assuming all other categories required to delist the Harbour as an Area of concern have been achieved, remediation of Randle Reef will be the last major project required to fully restore Hamilton Harbour and remove it from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Delisting of Hamilton Harbour cannot occur until remediation of contaminated sediments at Randle Reef has been successfully addressed.
The project will involve the use of a completely sealed engineered containment facility to isolate the contaminated sediment from the ecosystem. While other confined disposal facilities exist in Canada for contaminated sediment, those facilities are not designed to contain contaminants with concentrations as high as those found at Randle Reef, nor are they designed to completely seal the contamination from the ecosystem. The Randle Reef facility, once filled with contaminated sediment and capped, will utilized as a port facility. This approach of containing contaminated sediment in an engineered facility and creating useable land is a first in Canada.
The contamination of sediment at Randle Reef is the result of multiple historical sources over a period of more than 150 years and includes coal gasification, petroleum refining, steel making and associated coking, municipal waste, sewage effluent and overland drainage.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a class of organic compounds that are present in oil, coal and tar and are produced during the burning of these fuels. PAHs are also formed by the process of incomplete combustion of such products as wood tobacco smoke and diesel fuel. There are several known PAH carcinogens (directly involved in causing cancer) and several others are suspected carcinogens.