Special Report

West Harbour: The Three R's

Revisit, Remediate and Reuse are the real keys to the re-birth of the West Harbour. This article will focus on Remediation while discussing the other two R's.

By Mark Richardson
Published January 22, 2011

We all now know by rote the three great R's of re-cycling: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I would like to present the application of three new R's that could spur the re-vitalization of a city.


More and more I am hearing a new refrain pertaining to the West Harbour. It goes something like this, "I know a stadium isn't the best thing to put on the Harbour lands, but it's the best option we've got."

I thought the same thing for quite some time; with the money on the available from outside sources a new stadium is our best shot for the harbor and to spur growth in and around the city core.

That was before I really educated myself on stadiums, the Harbour and our city. I have come to understand that a stadium will be no magic bullet for the Harbour and that there are many much more exciting development plans available through Setting Sail.


At a recent discussion sponsored by Rethink Barton-Tiffany, David Schellingerhoudt, an architectural student, presented a different vision for the harbour, albeit one that required a much more patient approach than has been discussed recently. David talked of the possible Bioremediation of contaminated Harbour lands. This piqued my interest and I decided to do some research.

Bio-remediation is the process of using plants and natural occurring microbes to remediate soil in-situ (in place). Traditional remediation involves the removal of contaminated soil, trucking it off site and either incinerating it and simply using it as landfill untreated. Sometimes a small amount of soil is removed and a 'cap' is installed, this is the $3-5 million dollar option we keep reading about for the West Harbour.

The key to Bioremediation is knowing what is in the soil and in what concentrations. My councillor, Brad Clark, has been trying to provide me with the soil study done on the West Harbour in 2003 before Brad was a councillor.

Brad has kindly taken that ball as far as he can for me and I will have to play some red tape games with city staff for the actual report. I must note that Brad has been a great help, even after I disclosed that the report was needed for a Raise The Hammer article!

Without being informed on what exactly is in the West Harbour soil we can simplify the discussion, contaminants can be divided into two categories: Organics (hydrocarbons) and In-organics (metals). Organics can be broken down naturally with microbes and In-organics have to be removed or stabilized.


I have seen microbe remediation in action when I worked at the Petro-Canada refinery in Oakville, now closed. Sludge that could not be processed further from the Waste Water plant was accumulated in a pond. Yearly that sludge was injected on a 'land farm' on site, about 6-8 inches below the soil surface. Microbes in the soil, now very abundant due to years of land farming, broke down the hydrocarbons.

Microbes degrade hydrocarbons (organic compounds) by using the contaminant for their own growth and re-production. Organics provide carbon for cell construction and provides electrons which the microbes use to obtain energy.

Testing by the Ministry of Environment and Petro-Canada showed that almost all of the organics were broken down in the land farm, usually within a year.

A similar process is occurring in the West Harbour lands as you read this article. Microbes are using and breaking down organics constantly. The issue is whether it's happening fast enough and if not, how can we speed it up?

Plants and trees have been proven to amplify the effectiveness of microbe activity through The Rhizosphere Effect. The Rhizosphere Effect occurs in the soil 1-5mm from root surface. Plant roots excrete compounds (root exudates) which concentrate microbiological activity around the root. Microbiological activity is 5-100 times greater in this zone than in the general soil.

It has been reported in studies that populations of the microbes that break down the un-holy industrial contamination trinity of benzene, toluene, xylene were 5 times higher in the rhizosphere of Popular trees than in the general soil in the area.

Microbe remediation can also be accelerated through the use of microbe seeding (adding microbes to the soil for the known contaminant) and adding nutrients and oxygen to the soil.


One possible cheap in-situ remediation strategy for metal contamination is Immobilization.

Immobilization can be achieved by mixing soil with lime, the solubility of metals such as Cd, Cu, Zn and Ni are reduced due to the formation of insoluble hydroxides. Immobilization will render the soil useless due to a high ph (base or caustic). Microbes die and the soil will not support plant life.

Another option for in-situ metal remediation is the use of plants, or phytoremediation. Plants have constitutive and adaptive mechanisms for accumulation or tolerating high metal contaminant concentrations in their rhizospheres. Most plants that survive in toxic soils do so by either avoiding heavy metals or accumulating them in their tissues. The key to metal remediation is in choosing the plant species that will accumulate metal in their tissues.

400 types of 'hyper-accumulators' have been identified as of the year 2000. These plants tend to be contaminant specific to a certain type of metal. These plants tend to have shallow roots which are a benefit as heavy metals tend to accumulate near the top layer of the soil. According to the year 2000 studies the accumulators also tend to grow slowly and have a low biomass, which is a detriment to the process. Further studies and improvements in plant species selection have occurred since 2000.

Pros and Cons

*The pros of plant remediation: it has a low start-up cost, it's a mostly unmanned process, energy is free (solar), the harvest is cheaper to handle and ship than soil (drier and lighter) and it does not harm the soil ecosystem in place.

Using this remediation method, the biological properties and physical structure of the soil is maintained, the technique is environmentally friendly, cheap, visually pleasing and offers the possibility of bio-recovery of the heavy metals through further off site processing of the harvest.

The cons: longer time required (minimum of 5 years), disposal of plants after harvest and possible risks to any animals using the plants as food. It is obvious that the plants would have to be tested on a regular basis and harvested before concentrations became a risk to wildlife.

I'd like to close Bioremediation with an example of the cost. "Remediation of 10 acres contaminated with lead using current technologies could cost as much as $12 million. This includes planning and documenting the project, as well as the actual decontamination process. In comparison, potential phytoremediation methods for the same area could cost as little as $500,000.

In addition, many phytoremediation costs can be spread out over the life of the project (which may be years), whereas traditional remediation technologies typically call for large up-front expenditures."


Actually Adaptive Reuse would be the better term. Look at the size of the Rheem building. What amazing and creative things could Hamiltonians dream up for that space? Davis S. managed to have a picture of the inside of the Rheem building and it is stunning, a piece of our industrial heritage really.

Inside the Rheem Factory
Inside the Rheem Factory

Soaring ceilings, bright and high chain sash windows, stunning structural metal... this building has everything needed for a great adaptive reuse. Leave it up and no remediation is needed where it stands. An indoor playground, retail space for artists, another good cafe, an interactive industrial museum... what can you envision in there?


There are other options to revitalize the West Harbour than the stadium mania that has gripped many of us. These West Harbour development options can be cheap, organic, environmentally friendly, and educational and provide more of a catalyst for growth than stadium.

Growth along this path will require patience, application of ideas and a faith in Mother Nature... what could really be better for Hamilton?

Further Reading and Sources

Mark Richardson has lived in Hamilton since 1993. He is a Stationary Engineer and is one of Hamilton's many Industrial Nomads. He currently is employed at US Steel.


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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 18:28:10

Interesting article, Mark.

Are there any examples of new housing, a stadium or any structure that have been constructed on bioremediated lands?

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-01-22 18:29:58

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 18:38:37

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 18:54:27

I've been saying for a long time that there are other uses for the Rheem site, other than a stadium. Why people have the attitude that 'it must be a stadium', is beyond me.

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By Interesting (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 18:59:51

Interesting article - The City should consider this method for brownfields around town that are scattered in the industrial corridor. However, in this case, we have the option to remediate a major brownfield in 2-3 years that has huge redevelopment potential all around it and if we can kick start that through the Future Fund NOW, I say we go for it.

As an aside, we have this major spending decision before us in less than 48 hours - It would be great if the city actually posted the staff report on the site BEFORE the meeting so that the public can see all the information pertaining to this very important decision on $45-50 million dollars.

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 19:18:51

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 19:34:22

Great article Mark and has me thinking, could there be more Gravity Climbing Gyms in the Rheem building? Reed, you're great with your routes but I'm just a beginner and middle class climber and would love to see more different 5.7's - 5.9's than you can provide because I understand you have to cater as well, in your limited space, to the 5.10 and above climbers. Do we have a hidden gem of climbing in the Rheem building? It's a great sport and growing all the time. And honestly, while I have climbed successfuly 5.10's and made a mess of 5.11's (never have made it to the top and don't care) the main thing is 5.10's and above are too tough on my fingers and forearms, I'm a wimp when it comes to climbing but love the sport. A great 5.8 and I'm happy. A great night out with the wife without having to prove I'm some super freak climber at the 5.10 level and above, which are very difficult.


Comment edited by HamiltonFan on 2011-01-22 19:42:02

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By Mia (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 22:14:12

How many people would go for this?

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 22:22:17

Picture of the inside of the Rheem building now included in the main article.

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By mb (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 22:52:43

Wow. A great read. And most of you want to tear this thing down and build a stadium? The inside looks like it's in great shape! So many things can be done.

I've heard the word 'visionary' being thrown around on the RTH site. Building a stadium on a harbourfront close to a downtown is not visionary... it's been done before many times (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, just to name a few).

Reusing this Rheem building in a creative and effective way... THAT'S VISIONARY.

Examples: an indoor playground or climbing walls (as has been stated)...a less informal art gallery (more like an art expo) to complement the James North Art District...a convention/banquet hall...or (my preference) something like the Forks Market in Winnipeg

Comment edited by mb on 2011-01-22 23:22:13

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By HamiltonFan (registered) | Posted January 22, 2011 at 23:30:59

Never have seen the inside of it actually.

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 08:39:27

The concept presented at Rethink Barton-Tiffany needs a wider audience. The options for soil remediation and reuse of the Rheem building are just two of the brilliant ideas put forward. The others included a phased development approach, and a more sensible pedestrian bridge to Bayfront Park. I encourage everyone to visit their website, become informed, and add your voices to the discussion. This kind of incremental planning with decentralized projects moving at their required pace can be applied to other areas of the city as well.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2011 at 10:22:30

Recently, 2010 Mayoral candidate Mahesh Butani published a somewhat satirical essay at The Hamiltonian.


Towards the end of this essay, he presented some very intriguing possibilities to consider regarding 'reuse'. I'll present them here for you:




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By michel (registered) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 12:36:06

Great, thanks Mark. Here a gem about organic degradation from TED:

Talks: Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/paul_...

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By say what (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 12:58:01

grear read the fully illustrates that in terms of remediation a stadium actually hurts the area as the site would not be remediated but only capped. A straong case hase been presented here to thurn this area into a natural environment for a period of time in order to be able to have a useful purpose for the site in the future that would far outperform the benefits of a stadium precinct. Brave, thats thinking outside of the box that brings immediate benefits to the northe end and even greater benefits up the road. Alongside the other article today that shows $35M could be spent developing a duel condo tower somewhere at WH which would generate $$30-$50M thus paying the costs of the project This would allow reinvestment of the FF money on another project and increase the payback many fold if the city were to act as developer where no developer appears ready to invest. The risk is that the city would be unable to get $$50M at $300,000 but would have to settle for $180,000 thus only realizing a $30M payback. Thats still only a net $5M investment in the core that would likely have developers look far more seriously at investment. Thats what the core needs. A lower total investment that actually guarantees more residents in the core rather than hoping for spinoffs on much more expensive projects

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 15:20:51

Sounds like a plan Say, that way we can all have our cake and eat it too..

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By rednic (registered) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 16:58:39

hmm ... Hard to say but ... it looks like you could put a velodrome in their ... That would be creative reuse right ? and it is (was?) part of the plan ?

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By hammy (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 17:00:19

Good Point Red.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 17:13:18


Wow, that is the kind of thinking we need!

It would most likely require some structural steel modifications, but nothing beyond what a good team of structural engineers and ironworkers could accomplish. Does anyone know where to find the dimensions of a velodrome?

Edit: Link to a small, no frills velodrome picture

Comment edited by mrjanitor on 2011-01-23 18:01:10

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By rednic (registered) | Posted January 23, 2011 at 18:20:33

from wiki answers ...

The 250m track is the better of the two options to build indoors. The overriding advantage of the smaller track is the lower cost of the building to house it and the spectator accommodation. The velodrome building to house a 250m track will require a free span structure of 120m. The height of the building will preclude most urban sites.

This is not quite correct ... The building could have pillars in the 'infield' ...

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