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The second part of Save Our Shoreline’s look at what lies beneath the St. Helier Waterfront and the dreadful legacy that it has left.

A number of Waterfront projects have been approved and/or built in recent years, and many more are in the Planning pipeline. Little has been said thus far about the remediation necessary for each one during the excavation of the sites, especially as most now have plans for several levels of underground car parking. It is to one developer’s credit that following our concerns about sea penetration of Castle Quay, they worked with us during the planning process of Castle Quay 2 which has recently been approved. The compromise restricted the basement level to one, so excavation will not go down to mean high water sea level which is where problems start.

A detailed map produced by independent consultants WRc Environmental Management in 1995 showing the extent of the contamination on the Waterfront.
A detailed map produced by independent consultants WRc Environmental Management in 1995 showing the extent of the contamination on the Waterfront.

The Finance Quarter development, however, is a new and huge beast in its extent and design and added to the already approved but unbuilt buildings such as the Zephyrus Development, (pictured further down) will cause a huge headache. The old Victorian sea wall on the boundary of Harbour Reach (building 4) serves to remind us where the beach once was, 9 – 10.5 metres AOD – above ordnance datum – below largely contaminated fill. This fine Victorian wall sadly, is destined to be destroyed as part of the present application.

All the buildings will need deep excavation work on areas that have previously been identified in two independent reports, the WRc Environmental Resources Management Report of 1999, and the Arup Rothwell Consulting Engineers Report of 2000. The consultants agreed that following the practice of dumping of combined incinerator ash into our land reclamation sites from 1979 until 1995, the Waterfront is riddled with pockets of ash, asbestos and other toxic materials. The whole area can be classed as a collection of toxic waste dumps which are porous and face powerful hydropneumatic pressures from our huge tides. As the tide rises, seawater is forced into the underlying areas and mixes with the contaminated groundwater which is flowing slowly seawards.

SOS know from experience (such as documented events at the Energy from Waste Plant excavation) that the sea will indeed come ‘up and under’, even if secant piling is used, will mix with contaminants and the resulting leachate, which contain high concentrations of heavy metals and other pollutants, will flow to sea, which are ‘controlled waters’, as in fact is the ground water table below St. Helier).

The footprint of the proposed Finance Quarter with the first building shown and (inset) a map produced in 2000 by Arup Rothwell, independent consulting engineers, outlining the contaminated Waterfront area.
The footprint of the proposed Finance Quarter with the first building shown and (inset) a map produced in 2000 by Arup Rothwell, independent consulting engineers, outlining the contaminated Waterfront area.

It is not just the removal of the material that is the problem here. In fact the Wrc report of 1999 states: “The rate of groundwater migration estimated to be 21 metres per year would tend to indicate that a plume of contaminated waters could take up to 20 years to migrate from the oldest areas of ash disposal to the current sea wall”. Coincidentally SOS released their own report in March of 1999 which mirrored WrC’s concerns about marine pollution. Given that nearly 14 years have already passed since the WrC and Arup Rothwell reports, we are now approaching the highest risk period, and further excavation can only serve to disturb the forces underground that will accelerate this process. Ironically the soon to be renovated West Park Bathing Pool may be off bounds if the process speeds up.

The Waterfront is in reality a huge toxic dump. All anyone can do is to remediate as much as possible when construction starts. And this is a headache. Our observations in the past have been that site managers have been allowed to decide ‘on the hoof’ which loads contain incinerator ash, which contain asbestos coated material, and which seem inert. All materials are then carted by lorries to various disposal sites at La Collette. Asbestos will be for a time available to the air, and a recent assurance by Transport and Technical Services that ‘as soon as it is noticed it will be covered with a tarpaulin’ is not good enough given that the area is heavily populated, and it can only take a few fibres of asbestos to be inhaled to cause often lethal disease in later years.

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We have raised the issue with the various Departments and are looking at more environmentally friendly disposal methods. But the sheer volume of material and its removal will alone cause deep disruption to the already mobile ground and sea waters and the effects on the motility and disturbance of the toxins are unknown. Dr. Mike Romeril, Environmental Adviser to the States of Jersey, estimated that in 1988 alone, over 17,000 tonnes of combined incinerator ash was dumped, which contained 440kg cadmium, 4.8kg mercury and 64,000 kg lead. This process went on for many years and volumes increased. So we see problems creating huge deep excavations in what is actually a contaminated marine environment. And there are further problems in disposing of the excavated material much of which must be deemed contaminated.

SOS feel that this situation cannot be lightly signed off by Planning and Environment without a full workable and robust remediation method in place and we ask that this is initiated without delay. In this matter Planning and Environment, TTS and the developers, particularly the States of Jersey Development Company must work together. SOS wonder if the SoJDC at this point in time have considered the inherent problems? Their predecessors The Waterfront Enterprise Board, commissioned the WRc Environmental Management Report which should have alerted the JDC to the current dangers. We will be seeking a meeting with both the SoJDC and Planning and Environment to discuss the problem and seek a solution.

Jersey’s Toxic Waterfront – December 2012
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