Contaminated silt at Market Slip causes headaches for Saint John

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The City of Saint John will have to send 3,000 cubic metres of contaminated silt at Market Slip to a disposal site on land. (Connell Smith, CBC)

Posted June 2, 2019

Boaters can't tie up at slip until silt is trucked to land-based disposal site

The City of Saint John is scrambling to make arrangements for visiting boaters this summer after a plan to dredge contaminated soil at Market Slip fell through.

No companies responded to a request for tenders this month to dredge 3,000 cubic metres of silt to allow sailboats and other pleasure craft to dock at the historic slip beside Market Square.

Market Slip is believed to be the spot where Loyalists landed in the late 18th century and was crowded with wooden sailing vessels in the 19th century.

Now it's the only place in the port where recreational boaters can tie up. So far, the city hasn't been able to find an alternative place for them to stop.

Boaters wait for tides to change

Coun. Gary Sullivan said silt has now built up at Market Slip to the point where most pleasure craft arriving from the Bay of Fundy can no longer use it as a staging area while awaiting favourable tides at Reversing Falls.

That makes it far less likely that pleasure-boat flotillas from the U.S. and Nova Scotia will visit the St. John River system.

"There are very few sailboats that I know that are both seaworthy enough to go into the Bay of Fundy and small enough that they could still tie up at the one section of dock we would be able to put in at Market Slip," said Sullivan.

A plan to have the slip dredged by Port Saint John this past winter fell through when mandatory bottom testing revealed contamination.

Silt too polluted for sea disposal

Chris Hall, the port corporation's vice-president operations, told CBC News that "certain exceedances" found in the bottom soil meant it could not be disposed of at sea.

The soil will instead have to be removed by truck to a licensed land-based disposal site.

"It's highly, highly unusual to have exceedances that would require, to such a degree, that would require disposal on land," Hall said.

Market Slip was last dredged in 2004. Sediment gathered in Saint John Harbour dredging is usually dumped at a spot in the outer harbour.

A sonar readout of the Saint John Harbour bottom near the Harbour Bridge. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Removing the contaminated soil from Market Slip will also add considerably to the cost.

Mayor Don Darling said $400,000 is budgeted, about double what was estimated by city staff before it was known the bottom silt was contaminated.

The city did not make a list of the contaminants available on Wednesday.

There are no clear answers on why the silt at Market Slip is so polluted, but Darling said he would like them.

"Certainly, I think digging a bit deeper and trying to understand how did they arrive and where are the contaminants coming from, I think would be an important conversation to have," said Darling.

Contractors balked at timeline

The earlier tender call specified 3,000 cubic metres of silt material was to be removed by dump trucks equipped with modified tailgates to reduce leakage.

"Due to the nature of the materials, street cleaning will be required," said the tender document.

Sullivan, an avid recreational sailor, said contractors have told city officials the timeline required in the tender call was too tight because permits from the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government would have been required to dispose of the contaminated soil in a land-based site.

He said the plan now is to reissue the call for tenders this fall.