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December 20, 1999

Contacts: Jennifer Day Windsor, ON (519) 257-6733
Bruce Kirschner (519) 257-6710

International Joint Commission
Recommends Actions on
Restoration Activities for Hamilton Harbour

The International Joint Commission (IJC) today announces findings and recommendations from its assessment of federal, state and provincial governments' activities toward Hamilton Harbour restoration. The assessment notes successes and opportunities to overcome obstacles in the ongoing effort to restore and protect the Harbour under the Remedial Action Plan (RAP).

The status assessment evaluates ongoing remediation by the responsible governments and is not an environmental audit of current conditions in Hamilton Harbour. The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada have primary responsibility for the Hamilton Harbour RAP. Commissioners met with local citizens, representatives of government agencies, industries, local municipalities, non-governmental organizations and the media to collect information during the assessment.

The IJC's findings of notable successes in the Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern include:

  • The Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth has completed, at a cost of $48 million, five combined sewer overflow (CSO) tanks designed to control the release of untreated waste. These projects, the first of 14 or so proposed tanks/tunnels, have resulted in noticeable reductions of the release of untreated sewage, on the order of 45% reduction from CSO's region-wide. In some locations, CSO volumes have been reduced by 90%. These improvements have reduced bacterial and phosphorus loadings to Hamilton Harbour.
  • Implementation of the Municipal-Industrial Strategy for Abatement has contributed to improvements of effluent quality.
  • The Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC) has provided an extraordinary level of input in support of remedial action plan implementation. The BARC has made a concerted effort to raise funds locally, but with limited results.
  • Local elected officials have provided a considerable level of attention and effort to remedial action plan activities.
  • Previous Federal staffing and expenditure levels appear to have benefitted the restoration efforts.
  • To date, restoration of habitat conditions within Cootes Paradise appears to have been very successful with re-establishment of submergent vegetation in 1997.
  • Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Environment in cooperation with Stelco are taking steps toward addressing the more polluted sediment in the Randle Reef area of Hamilton Harbour.
  • BARC's annual publication of "Toward Safe Harbours" and the 1998 Status Report by the Remedial Action Planning Office have provided a realistic estimation of progress toward remediation and recommendations for further activities.

The IJC's findings noted obstacles to the timely restoration of Hamilton Harbour including:

  1. Expected Reductions in Funding for Remediation and Yet-to-be Quantified Needs.
    The IJC recommends that the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada explicitly recognize that anticipation of future funding needs is an important planning element to be developed for contaminated sediment in Hamilton Harbour AOC, and develop, in coordination with BAIT and BARC, a list of possible future actions and cost estimates for these various actions.

  2. Ensuring Optimal Public Consultation and Public Outreach.
    Action should be taken to ensure that as information regarding environmental conditions, including pollutant releases and recommended remedial actions, becomes available, and is shared with BARC and the general public in a manner such that early feedback is encouraged and adequate consultation is achieved.

  3. Uncertain Future Funding for the Bay Area Restoration Council.
    The IJC recommends that funding cutoffs to organizations, such as BARC, be avoided due to the high ratio of volunteer effort to agency funding and the advantage in supporting this type of activity. In any event, adequate notice and consultation should occur prior to adverse actions of this nature in order to minimize discontinuity of effort.

The Hamilton Harbour AOC has benefitted from a substantial level of financial support from federal, provincial and local governments, however funding has become more limited and decisions regarding the cleanup of contaminated sediment in the Harbour remain to be made. Care should be taken to ensure remedial actions are properly phased so that unnecessary environmental risks including those to human health do not occur.

The United States and Canada, in cooperation with state and provincial governments, agreed to develop and implement RAPs in a 1987 protocol to the Agreement. A RAP is to embody a systematic and comprehensive ecosystem approach to restoring and protecting beneficial uses in its respective Area of Concern. There are currently 42 Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes basin.

The IJC is a binational Canada-United States organization established by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The treaty recognizes that each country is affected by the other's actions in the lake and river systems along their common border. The IJC's primary purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes concerning these shared waters. Under the 1987 Protocol, the IJC is to review and comment on RAPs during each of the three stages of development. The IJC initiated status assessments to examine progress in specific Areas of Concern and open lake waters. The Hamilton Harbour Area of Concern is the third such evaluation. The full text of this status assessment is available on the Internet at www.ijc.org(.)

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