Women’s protest closes the Waterfront Trail for cleanup.
Two women frustrated with the city of Hamilton’s inaction on sewage debris washing up on the shores of Bayfront Park, took direct action this weekend, causing the Waterfront Trail to be closed for cleanup.
The protest —most of it floating in a raft on the water— came weeks after activists Kristen Villebrum and Wendy Bush started pressing the city to do something about the mess.
In late October, Villebrun and others began constructing a series of stone inukshuks along the Waterfront Trail to honour Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women. Villebrun, is an Oji-Cree woman.
She said when she first attempted to gather rocks to build her inukshuks, she noticed the shore was littered with used syringes, tampons and their applicators, plastic caps, condoms and feces.
When she called a city official, she was told there had been a spill of hazardous material from the sewage treatment plant at Woodward Avenue, which suggests the material had floated more than eight kilometres to the west from the Windermere basin.
Disgusted by the pollution and what they believed to be the city’s inaction, Villebrun and Bush brought a small floating raft and some blankets late Saturday afternoon and decided they wouldn’t leave until they got some answers.
They vowed to stay there, fasting, drinking only liquids.
On Sunday evening, the city announced that in response to the women’s concerns, the Waterfront Trail would be closed.
Villebrun said she spoke briefly with city officials Sunday evening but vowed that the protest would continue until they actually witnessed the debris being cleaned up.
Monday morning, city crews shut down the Waterfront Trail to start cleanup efforts. Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins wanted to know why the mess had gotten to that level, and it took the city so long to clean it up.
Where is this sewage coming from?
So if sewage is washing up on the shore of the waterfront trail, where exactly is it coming from? “I don’t think anyone can say with certainty,” said Dan McKinnon, director of Hamilton Water.
During particularly intense rainstorms, sometimes wastewater bypasses the full treatment system at the Woodward water plant. That happened in this case.
Nine special overflow tanks at different areas of the city hold back much of the wastewater in those situations, but two of the west-end tanks overflowed on Oct. 28 too, McKinnon said.
Even with the overflow tanks, Collins said, debris like that found on the weekend still happens.
Floatables should be filtered out
However those tanks are built to filter out “floatables” such as needles, tampons and condoms, so now water officials are checking the tanks to determine whether the tanks failed or the waste floated from elsewhere.
“The biggest question here is where this is coming from, and the higher ups are trying to figure that out,” said Steve Hasselman, the park’s superintendent.
McKinnon noted the city’s record at stopping overflowing sewage from reaching the harbour is much better today than 20 years ago.
“We’ve made great strides, ” McKinnon said. “But events like this highlight the fact there is always more for us to do.”
Waterfront Trail reopens
The Waterfront Trail reopened this morning after hazardous waste cleanup crews finished removing needles and other dangerous debris that had washed up on shore.
Inspections on various underground tanks, which are meant to catch and trap sewage from old, overwhelmed sewers, continued today. A vacuum truck will continue sucking other trash out of the water along the shoreline today, with all cleanup expected to be complete by Wednesday afternoon.
Villebrun told Red Power Media she believe’s the problem will continuously reoccur until the source of the sewage is found. Villebrun said the community came together to support the women’s action and she believes the protest has woken up others to pay attention to state of the waters.
“Water is a life source, there’s no life, without clean waters” said Villebrun.