UPDATE: Council lukewarm on beach issue, but looking for more answers

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Cornwall waterfront

Those looking to swim at a waterfront beach in Cornwall better not hold their breath waiting for it to become a reality.

A report to city council, presented Monday night, suggests the costs of such a venture will be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there is still a deluge of environmental work to be completed before such a project would be started in an area many fear is contaminated.

But there appears to be at least some interest around the council table about getting more answers on the subject.

"This is an idea that bubbles up regularly, so maybe it's time for us to take a look at it," said Coun. Bernadette Clement.

The report, from the city's planning department, suggests council needs to authorize examining the issue further before approving any plans.

"A beach proposal of this nature is much more complex in the range and sensitivity of issues than is generally accepted by the public," Ken Bedford, the city's planning manager, said in the report, adding more environmental assessment of the land needs to be completed too. "It is imperative that council gather comprehensive/expert data to assess, then determine a realistic feasibility to move forward with such a project."

Many local residents have lined up in suppport of creating a beach in a small inlet behind the Royal Canadian Air Force Association building along the city's waterfront.

Cornwall's Waterfront Development Committee heard a presentation in September which highlighted that specific parcel of waterfront land.

City interim CAO Stephen Alexander said the committee is still "engaged in the conversation" and is expected to return to council with more answers and recommendations on the subject.

The committee undertook to determine the likelihood of beach construction taking place and had to consider things like mercury levels in the sediment, construction/operating costs and the timeline for approval from local governing bodies.

Dr. Jeff Ridal, executive director of the St. Lawrence River Institute, and a local expert on the river in general, has suggested to the city there is not enough scientific data in place to properly determine if a waterfront beach is safe.

Sediment and water-quality concerns permiate the city's waterfront, thanks to decades of pollution from large industries of the past, Ridal said in a letter to the city.

"Some initial (Raisin Region Conservation Authority) testing suggests that there are mercury levels in the inlet sediment," reads Bedford's report.

Coun. Andre Rivette had some concerns in that regard.

"Once you move those things (sediment), then it goes from being a ministry problem to a city problem," he said.

The environmental concerns are on top of what would likely be a hefty price tag for such a project.

It's been 10 years since a preliminary costing was completed on a beach proposal for the city. But in the early 2000s it was thought a beach would cost $750,000 to build and nearly $50,000 a year to operate.

Bedford feels those numbers have likely increased in the last 10 years.

Organizations: Royal Canadian Air Force Association, Waterfront Development Committee, St. Lawrence River Institute Raisin Region Conservation Authority

Geographic location: Cornwall, Bedford

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