North Harbour Cleanup Efforts Renewed
Posted on: April 27, 2018
Contaminated pulpy material from Thunder Bay Harbour.
A sample of the pulpy material contaminated with mercury in Thunder Bay Harbour. Several organizations met on April 18th to renew efforts aimed at cleanup.

Several organizations interested in cleanup of a contaminated area of Thunder Bay Harbour met on April 18th at Lakehead University. It was the first such meeting involving Transport Canada, the owner of the harbour bottom in this federal port. Harbour administration is carried out by the Thunder Bay Port Authority.

Covering an Area 52 Football Fields in Size

A pulpy mass of some 400,00 cubic meters in volume sits on the harbour bottom, off the mouth of the Current River and adjacent to a paper mill, which operated in the Current River area of Thunder Bay until several years ago. It covers approximately 26 hectares of the harbour, roughly equal to the size of 52 high school football fields, and is up to several meters thick. The material is contaminated with mercury and estimates for cleanup have ranged from 40 million to over 100 million dollars.

Federal Minister Gets Involved

For some time, the Public Advisory Committee to the Thunder Bay Remedial Action Plan has requested that Transport Canada become involved in the cleanup process. This request is based on the premise that the land owner must play a role in cleanup. After being approached by Public Advisory Committee representatives, Patti Hajdu—Thunder Bay-Superior North MP and Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour—assisted in bringing Transport Canada to the table.

The tone of the meeting was very cooperative. In addition to representatives of the Public Advisory Committee and Lakehead University, senior personnel from the following organizations attended:

Federal Representatives:

Provincial Representatives:

Other Representatives:

  • Thunder Bay Port Authority


Several outcomes resulted from the meeting. Foremost, it was decided that a second meeting would be held in June to begin the process of creating a cleanup strategy. All organizations present at the April 18th meeting said that they would attend in June.

Additional outcomes and considerations arising from the April 18th meeting include the following:

  • Transport Canada stated that they intend to be an ongoing partner and are looking forward to collaborative solutions
  • the federal Port of Thunder Bay is not eligible for cleanup project funding through the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan; furthermore, this program is being phased out within two years
  • to the extent possible, the “polluter pays” principle should be utilized. The former mill has gone through numerous owners and if any are still solvent, they should be participating in cleanup
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada stated that the former mill site and adjacent harbour contamination should be considered as one “package” and that synergy between the two aspects may result in lower cost cleanup
  • the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change said that all involved need to be cognizant of environmental orders on the former mill site. They said these orders need to be recognized and respected going forward, even as solutions are being sought
  • public access to harbour shoreline is at a premium. If tax dollars are to be spent on cleanup, then eventual public access to this area of the harbour should be an integral cleanup component
  • the City of Thunder Bay may be able to assist and should be invited to participate in ongoing discussions aimed at cleanup
  • harbour front land owners in the Current River area should be included in discussions.

Infosuperior will provide further information about North Harbour cleanup as steps are taken.


How was cleanup carried out in Hamilton Harbour, a situation involving the steel industry and one of the largest cleanups on the Great Lakes?

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