Esquimalt Harbour remediation project reaches major milestone


Katelyn Moores
Base Public Affairs

After months of work, the $162.5 million Esquimalt Harbour Remediation Project reached a major milestone with the completion of remediation at the Y-Jetty and Lang Cove site in the summer.

The Remediation Project, which began January 2019, addressed contamination that had accumulated in the harbour seabed after almost 200 years of commercial, military, and industrial use.

This particular area was home to an operational shipyard from 1893 to 1994, most of that time known as Yarrows. In 1996, these lands were acquired by the Department of National Defence for $1. 

In its day, Yarrows Shipyard was a bustling business, building ships for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canada’s Merchant Marine Service during the Second World War, and later vessels for BC Ferries – just to name a few.

Regrettably, contamination from shipbuilding and repair activities and log booming had a severe impact on the health of the harbour environment over the years.   

“One of the greatest contributors to contamination at the Y-Jetty site was sandblasting operations, which were used to remove rust and paint from ship hulls,” explained Mike Bodman, Manager of Base Safety and Environment and Esquimalt Harbour Remediation Project Manager. “Unfortunately, this work was done at a time when there was very little understanding of the effect it would have on the marine environment. So, metals and other toxic ingredients in the paint were allowed to enter the harbour and eventually settled in the seabed.”

Until recently, remnants of this sandblast waste could be seen in the black sand along the shoreline near Y-Jetty in Lang Cove. The area is now filled with clean sand from the Fraser River, just one of the positive improvements that has resulted from this project.

During the remediation of Y-Jetty and Lang Cove site, over 48,500 cubic metres of sediment was dredged from the seabed, a volume that would fill about 19.5 Olympic sized swimming pools. The removed sediment contained an estimated 14,341 tonnes of contaminants, including aluminum, copper, iron, lead, and mercury, which is equivalent in mass to approximately 7,164 sports cars. 

The project team also removed 1,127 tonnes of debris from the sea floor. This debris included metal, timber, and concrete from what used to be a marine railway, as well as remnants of old jetty structures. In addition, more than 970 artifacts were recovered, consisting predominately of bottles and tableware.

To date, nearly 215,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediments have been removed from Esquimalt Harbour.

The removal of these contaminants will help provide a healthier, more diverse habitat for marine life, while also providing economic and environmental benefits to the surrounding community. One of the ways the project team is working to support the recovery of the ecosystem in Esquimalt Harbour is by adding angular rocks to the seabed to encourage kelp growth. Initial surveys have already revealed promising results.

“Drop camera surveys have shown kelp is recolonizing quite quickly within the project area,” said Bodman. “This is really encouraging as kelp is an important part of a healthy marine ecosystem and ultimately will help support our vulnerable local salmon populations. Kelp re-establishment is an important part of supporting a diverse and sustainable environment in a working harbour like Esquimalt.”

The Y-Jetty and Lang Cove remediation was also the first in Esquimalt Harbour to include a comprehensive Indigenous Benefits Plan as part of the contract. It was unique in that it targeted training, employment, and procurement benefits specifically to the local Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, in whose territory the work took place.

Through the Indigenous Benefits Plan, the prime contractor procured more than $1 million in goods and services from the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations in support of the project. In addition, the project created numerous employment and training opportunities for community members. 

According to Bodman, the Y-Jetty and Lang Cove project team was honoured and grateful to collaborate with both Esquimalt and Songhees Nation to successfully establish this plan.

Additionally, over the duration of the project, remediation work across all sites supported approximately 225 jobs in the surrounding Esquimalt community.

“The Esquimalt Harbour Remediation Project is an important step forward in our government’s commitment to protect the long-term health of our oceans,” said Terry Beech, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard. “On top of the positive environmental and biodiversity impacts, this project created good-paying jobs for local communities, including members of the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. Moreover, it is helping clear the way for critical infrastructure upgrades at CFB Esquimalt, allowing the Royal Canadian Navy to have the tools and resources they need to keep Canadians safe. Through this project, we will see a healthier, cleaner, and more productive ocean environment for generations to come.”

Over the next three years, Base Safety and Environment will continue to monitor the project area, reporting their observations to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. With encouraging signs already being seen throughout the harbour, the team is hopeful the positive results of the remediation project will only continue to grow in the coming months and years.


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