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New fish habitat zone planned for Sarnia Bay this year

Tara Jeffrey A new habitat area for fish will be created in Sarnia Bay this year to offset the environmental impact of a large ship dock being built for the oversized load corridor.
Fish Beds Sarnia Bay

Tara Jeffrey  

A new habitat area for fish will be created in Sarnia Bay this year to offset the environmental impact of a large ship dock being built for the oversized load corridor.

The Cestar Dock at the foot of Exmouth Street will be the anchor and entry point for the corridor, allowing large industrial components to be rolled-on and rolled-off specially equipped cargo ships.

“Because we’re disrupting about 1,400 to 1,500 square-metres of shoreline or fish habitat, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans expects us to either replace it or build it somewhere else,” said project co-ordinator Lyle Johnson.

The dock’s construction at Sarnia Harbour poses a threat to a number of rare or smaller species of fish, including channel darters, Northern madtom and spotted sucker, Johnson said.

"They’re still part of the cycle of life and they’re becoming endangered. The area of the dock really is not a good area for fish habitat per say; it’s too deep. And even though they live there, they don’t necessarily breed there,” he said.

“So the area we agreed on was a section of Sarnia Bay, next to Centennial Park, just south of the kayak ramp.”

Shoals of gravel and cobblestones will be laid down to create fish spawning areas sheltered by beds of planted aquatic vegetation. A wall of large stones, to a height of about three feet, will shield the shoals from current and waves. Total estimated cost is $330,000.

City council recently approved a letter of credit to support the project, as required by Fisheries and Oceans.

The $400,000 letter of credit is a financial guarantee the city will establish the habitat and do post-construction monitoring.

“In this case, if the City of Sarnia said, ‘No, we’re not going to build the offsetting fish habitat,’ [the DFO] would take the funds allocated under that letter of credit and build it themselves,” Johnson explained.

“Which isn’t going to happen, but that’s the process.”

The dock and fish habitat are both expected to be completed this year, said Johnson.

The oversized load corridor project, which is resulting in a less obstructed road route connecting local fabricators to Sarnia Harbour, is a year ahead of schedule. The budget has grown from earlier estimates of about $12 million to $16.9 million.

The corridor, intended to boost manufacturing and attract new investment, is funded by Sarnia, Lambton County, St. Clair Township, the Sarnia Lambton Industrial Alliance, National Trade Corridor Fund, the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund, and Cestar College, a private career school in Toronto that trains Lambton College students.

About 18 major crossings along the route are being upgraded, with Bluewater Power crews moving lights, poles, wires and other obstructions.

“The biggest impact has been on Bluewater Power because, due to COVID-19, they had to go in separate trucks, isolate wherever they could, and keep social distance wherever they could,” Johnson added.

“But they’ve been fantastic and managed through it, and maintained their cost estimates pretty much on track.”

Johnson said the project has been a learning experience.

“I worked in the petrochemical industry most of my life, so I know the majority of the contractors. To me it was something that caught my interest; and it’s kind of like giving back a little piece to the community.

“I think it’s a vital part of keeping our competitiveness with the contractors in the Valley, and that in turn keeps the industry competitive.”

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