The National Capital Commission (NCC) will gradually close public access to Victoria Island over the next three months so it can clean up large amounts of contaminants found underground.
The $13-million clean up project on the 5.6-hectare island will take about seven years, the federal agency revealed on Tuesday.
“Soil samples taken on the island reveal an elevated level of contaminants, which requires immediate remediation work to ensure the long-term safety in terms of both human health and the environment,” the NCC announced on its website.
The cleanup will lay the groundwork for the rest of the NCC’s plans for the island, which is located on the Ottawa River, just west of Parliament Hill, and which many Indigenous groups consider a sacred place.
In its 50-year plan for the National Capital Region, unveiled in 2017, the NCC pledged to “work closely with the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation to create and implement a master plan for Victoria Island that will envision a place of special significance for Indigenous peoples.”
A new cultural and welcoming centre was proposed in 2016, when the NCC released its draft plan.
A number of industrial and commercial activities previously took place on Victoria Island, dating back to the late 1800s. The island was once home, for example, to a sawmill and ironwork and manufacturing companies, NCC spokesperson Mario Tremblay said.
Those activities ultimately left the island’s soil, groundwater and surface water polluted with metals, ashes, lead, zinc and fuel oil — all contaminants typically found in old industrial and commercial sites, according to the NCC.
Tremblay said the work to remove them is “complex” and will require multiple stages. Because of this, the commission doesn’t expect to re-open public access to all of Victoria Island until sometime in 2025, Tremblay said.
NCC to cut off access in three steps, undertake two phases of cleanup
The commission plans to cut off public access to Victoria Island in three steps, starting this month. The NCC will first install fencing along the Portage Bridge, closing off access to the island from the interprovincial bridge.
In November, more fencing will be installed across Middle Street on Victoria Island and visitors will be blocked from the east side of the island.
Finally, in December, the commission will install fencing at the Chaudières entrance to the island, at which point access to the site will be closed completely.
After that, the contamination cleanup will be completed in two phases, according to the NCC’s plan. The first is scheduled to be completed by spring 2020; the second phase will be undertaken between 2020 and 2025, the agency said.
The NCC said utilities on the island will need to be relocated “at some point” during the remediation work.
The commission acquired the bulk of Victoria Island in the 1960s. After it took possession of the rest of the site this spring, the NCC undertook a temporary capping and fencing program on the west side of the island. But that work is not enough to adequately protect environmental and human health in the long term, the commission said.
Tremblay said the NCC previously informed affected First Nations and tenants about the upcoming work.