Sidney residents speak up on creek contamination

People close to Reay Creek concerned with lack of action over the years.

Reg Kirkham walks along the Reay Creek dam near his home in Sidney. He and other residents in the area want assurance their health isn’t being affected by heavy metal contamination in the pond sediment.

Residents near Reay Creek and its pond near Canora Road want to know that the contamination in the sediment is not going to harm them now, or when the Town of Sidney begins clean up work.

A new association of area residents met with Town of Sidney officials this week and were, for the most part, satisfied that the amount of heavy metal contamination in the sediment of the pond is not immediately harmful.

Mike van der Linden, the Town’s manager of environmental services, says a consultant’s report into the contamination shows the sediment is OK for residential use — with some big caveats.

Van der Linden said he does not recommend anyone use the water in their gardens and suggests people keep their kids and pets away.

“There’s no real health concern,” he said.

Asked further about the health impacts, Councillor Peter Wainwright said their consultant report indicated that the term “residential use” in this case includes toddlers playing in the water and even eating the dirt. He said it’s not an immediate health concern.

The Town of Sidney is taking on the leadership role in planning for the cleanup of the pond sediment, following a Peninsula Streams Society study — started in 2013 — that showed heavy metal contaminants in the pond’s sediment.

That was backed up by the Town’s own consultant who looked into the contamination in January of this year.

Ian Bruce of Peninsula Streams said those studies simply confirm what some people — including past municipal councils and Town employees — have known for more than 15 years.

“Since 1998, the Capital Regional District’s own testing showed contamination and shared those results with the Town,” Bruce said. “I’m just concerned that nothing has ever really happened.”

Wainwright, who said he was on the Peninsula’s water committee in ‘98, agreed people knew of the problem back then. Nothing happened, he continued, until studies were done to find out where it was coming from. He said the Town has been working with the Victoria Airport Authority, which has done its own on-site remediation project on its portion of Reay Creek.

That relationship is ongoing, Wainwright noted, as the issue is multi-jurisdictional between North Saanich, VAA, Transport Canada and Sidney.

“The only thing Sidney is guilty of,” Wainwright said, “is bad communications. The Town has been working through the CRD process on this issue.”

Sidney’s Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble said criticism of the lack of action over the years is fair, noting the Town is ready to take action now.

“We are hearing residents’ concerns and frustrations … from past to present … and that’s fair game,” Humble said. “All we can offer is an assurance of the Town’s commitment.”

The municipality has set aside $40,000 in its budget this year to plan for the pond sediment cleanup and to design upgrades or removal of the dam that created the pond. Any actual work won’t take place until 2016 at the earliest, said Wainwright — and that will depend further on the willingness of the stakeholders to put up a portion of the cost, or on the availability of grant money.

“It’s a complex issue due to the multi-jurisdictional nature,” added Humble, noting that while they could not offer any guarantees on work timelines, “this issue has become a high priority for council.”

Residents along Reay Creek asked about the impact of the contamination on wildlife, as well as the issue of storm water flow levels, erosion and property values. Some were critical of the lack of action over the years but most agreed what the Town is doing now is positive — as long as there’s actual follow through.

Residents’ association spokesperson Bill Collins said what has become clear in the group’s three meetings so far, is a significant amount of dissatisfaction with past councils — but also a positive attitude looking ahead.

“They’ve known there is a problem, but nothing has been done,” he said, adding the group hopes to communicate with the Town in this process and hold their feet to the fire.

“It’s our voice, our words, that (councillors) need to hear.”

The residents group meets again on May 12. For time and place, call 250-213-9969.