VICTORIA -- More than four feet of mud contaminated with harmful heavy metals is being removed from Kelset Creek in Sidney.

Transport Canada has classified the creek and adjoining pond as a Class 1 contamination site and began the remediation work in late August..

The project will remove sediments with elevated levels of heavy metals, including cadmium and zinc, from the 200-metre creek bed near Victoria International Airport.

“The metal contamination origins were sourced back over the decades to having arisen from activities on the airport lands, possibly as far back as World War 2,” said Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith. “The creek is one of the important watersheds on the peninsula.”

Transport Canada awarded a $1.1-million contract to QM Environmental for the cleanup. 

QM Environmental diverted the creek around the Reay Creek pond area prior to beginning the excavation work. The contaminated sediment from the creek is being transported by truck to a soil management site on Canora Road at Victoria International Airport. 

“Completing this phase of the Kelset Creek remediation project demonstrates our government’s commitment to remediating contaminated sites and protecting the environment,” said Minister of Transport Marc Garneau in a statement. “Cleaning up the pond will reduce threats to the pond ecosystem and the food web, in addition to providing a healthier home for cutthroat trout and coho salmon.”

For one Sidney resident who has lived beside the creek for 35 years, the restoration of the creek could not have come soon enough.

“It needed to be done now because [the creek] was choked, there was no more oxygen in the water,” said Reg Kirkham. “The silting increased the turbulence and brought the sediments up and filled the pond with mud.”

While the remediation work is underway, the Town of Sidney has also contracted QM Environmental to replace the Reay Creek Dam. The town has budgeted a little more than $1 million for the dam work and to install a fish ladder as an aid to spawning salmon and trout. 

By undertaking both projects at the same time, it is hoped the potential environmental damage will be minimized.

“Having the work commence together causes a minimum of disruption to the residents but also it is a minimum of disruption to the environment,” said McNeil-Smith. “This work being done will significantly improve the fish habitat and the habitat of other wildlife.”

Kirkham said the restoration of the creek will only help to improve the health of the ecosystem it supports.

“This is a jewel of an opportunity to maintain this habitat for the rest of the creatures,” said Kirkham.

The project to remediate the estuary and pond is expected to be completed in late fall 2020.