Six kilometres due west of Wreck Beach and the University of British Columbia lies a mysterious federal marine disposal site — the largest and oldest in Canada — where vast amounts of dredged and excavated material are dumped each year.
“It’s kind of a secret thing, that’s the way I describe it,” says Terry Slack, a veteran gillnetter and public watchdog on local fishing issues who worries about the dump. “Not too many people know it exists.”
Officially opened in 1976, the site received about 22.1 million cubic metres of material to 2014, including 2.3 million cubic metres dumped there from 1930 to 1976. The site has a radius of one nautical mile and is situated at a depth of 240 metres.
According to a consultant’s report, a sediment survey at the Point Grey disposal site showed that concentrations of mercury, cadmium, total PCBs, and total polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were at allowable levels. Concentrations of arsenic, copper, nickel, barium, cobalt, manganese and vanadium exceeded those levels, although they “could not specifically be ascribed to disposal activities.”
A reported based on sampling in 2016 has not yet been released.
Environment Canada said that last year it permitted at least 204,923 cubic metres of material to be dumped at the Point Grey marine disposal site — enough to fill about 80 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
About 39 per cent of that consisted of dredged material, mostly sediments from shipping lanes in the Fraser River and Port of Vancouver. The other 61 per cent is described as “inert, inorganic geological matter, primarily excavated material from local construction sites.”
Ten private companies and one federal department dumped there last year: Seaspan, North Vancouver; Fraser River Pile & Dredge, New Westminster; Vancouver Pile Driving, North Vancouver; Valley Towing, New Westminster; Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Vancouver; Ladner Yacht Club, Delta; Bel Pacific Excavation and Shoring, Burnaby; BH Hall Constructors, Surrey; Matcon Excavation and Shoring, Coquitlam; Conwest Contracting, Vancouver; and 568849 B.C., Surrey, the president of which is William Pauga of Surrey, according to provincial corporate records.
Dan Bate, spokesman for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, confirmed his department in 2016 received a permit to dump up to about 20,000 cubic metres of dredged material from Steveston — sand, silt and clay — at the Point Grey disposal.
There are 10 marine disposal sites in B.C. waters, including a small site at Sand Heads off the south arm of the Fraser River that only takes material dredged from the riverbed.
Slack started in the fishing industry at age 9 and today, at 76, says he wants to help the Fraser River and local waters that served him so well over the decades. “I’m a guy who’s taken his living off the river. I should put something back.”
He guides Postmedia News along a waterfront path through little-known Fraser River Trail Park at the foot of Hudson Street in south Vancouver. Reaching the Fraser’s north arm, the path overlooks two moored, self-dumping barges — the Tsartlip and Pauquachin, named after two Victoria-area First Nations — owned by Fraser River Pile & Dredge.
He remains concerned that pollutants are being dumped off Point Grey. “That site out there is getting dirtier and dirtier.”
Adam La Rusic, head of marine programs for Environment Canada in the Pacific region, said in an interview that anyone seeking to dump off Point Grey must test representative samples from the load of material to ensure any pollutants fall within accepted levels.
He confirmed that “the Point Grey disposal site is consistently cleaner than the surrounding ambient” area. Still, there are fears that excavation around Vancouver could stir up historic pollutants from industrial sites.
“That’s a concern for us. Vancouver harbour is a pretty industrial area and has been for many years.”
In 1999, Environment Canada set a fee for disposal at sea of dredged and excavated material. The rate, $470 per 1,000 cubic metres, has not changed in close to 20 years.
Loads that fail to meet the standard for a disposal at sea permit must be treated on land at greater expense.
In 1993, Valley Towing was convicted of unlawfully dumping wood waste at sea, contrary to the Ocean Dumping Act, and fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $20,000 for research into the environmental impact of dumping. The two barges were full of wood debris that had been dredged from the river bottom in front of a Fraser Valley sawmill. Video obtained by a sport fisherman at the Point Grey site proved instrumental in the conviction for the dumping outside the Point Grey disposal site.
In 1992, The Vancouver Sun reported that a sonar study of the sea floor off Point Grey disclosed the existence of tonnes of illegally dumped waste.