The former rifle range property on Lakeshore Road. Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Recent information from the Department of National Defence provides some hope that the former rifle range on Lakeshore Road could be targeted for public use eventually, and that there isn’t a great concern over possible unexploded military devices within the large field.

This confidence is despite information from the DND that 353 pieces of munitions scrap were discovered on the site as recently as 2018, including two pieces of unexploded ordnance, and there could still be some such items on the property.

The DND spokesperson also suggested the property is considered low risk, and if opened to the public, those using it will have to watch out for such devices and call the police if they see anything that looks like ordnance.

In correspondence with The Local, DND spokesperson Andree-Anne Poulin outlined what has taken place at the site to investigate and clear it of unexploded ordnance. 

The former military training ground, on the east end of a property, has been a recent topic of discussion after the region’s public works committee asked that the federal government take financial responsibility for the clean-up of the land during the decommissioning of the former water treatment plant to the west — the region said it has neither the skill nor the budget to handle unexploded military devices that it was never told were still on the property or included in the work to decommission it.

A survey was conducted in 2008 that sought out any explosives that did not explode or function as intended, including the former water treatment plant property, before a new one eventually replaced it in 2020. No ordnance was found during that investigation, said Poulin. But that survey, along with another in 2011, did not include the sewage lagoons. 

“Due to the water depth and small magnetic signature” of potential unexploded devices, he said, it is not possible to investigate for ordnance in the lagoons. 

When the region decommissions the old plant, the possibility of ordnance needs to be taken into account, said Poulin, and disturbing the sludge is not recommended.

But he also explained that following a 2011 survey, site probes at the former rifle range have occurred. 

From 2012 to 2015, the DND completed environmental and unexploded device investigations on the site, which identified the presence of both environmental contaminants and the potential for unexploded ordnance. 

This resulted in clearance and environmental investigations conducted in 2015 and 2016. A total of 2,947 potential ordnance targets were investigated over the course of the clearance. 

Poulin said 573 munitions scrap items were found, properly screened, packaged and sent for disposal at Canadian Armed Forces’ ammunition depot in Saskatchewan. 

In that process, five suspected unexploded ordnance pieces were found and destroyed, including one three-inch mortar, one two-inch mortar and three grenades. 

More work took place in 2017 and 2018 when an environmental remediation contractor and ordnance expert visited the site. 

Poulin said a total of 5,229 potential ordnance targets were investigated over the course of the remediation process, and at that time, 353 munitions scrap items were found before being screened and sent for disposal at the ammunition depot in Dundurn, Saskatchewan. 

Two unexploded ordnance pieces were also discovered — a one-inch mortar that was destroyed on site, as well as a 3.5-inch unfired practice rocket. 

Despite these findings in recent years, DND is “committed to ensuring the former rifle range property is made safe for parkland use,” said Poulin. 

“While it is difficult to completely eliminate risk” following clearance work and site investigations, DND has “assessed the former rifle range site at low-risk for future use by the community,” he said. 

“However, as with all former military sites, people will need to continue to use good judgement and caution when using the property,” added Poulin. 

If people see something that looks like it may be ordnance, they are advised to not touch it, “turn around and leave the area the same way you came in,” and call local police, he said. 

Originally acquired in 1908 by DND, the lands were transferred in 1947 to what is now Parks Canada. 

In 1982, 23 hectares were transferred to Niagara Region for use as a sewage lagoon, and an additional 3.6 hectares was leased to the region for the operation of a wastewater treatment plant located at 1699 Lakeshore Rd. 

Until 2000, the balance of the property was used by DND under lease agreement for summer militia training, and included two rifle ranges, a pistol range, a rocket range, a grenade range and a tank training and maneuvering area. There is also a small area to the west known as Niagara Shores, administered by Parks Canada, and also now off-limits to the public.

By Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 06, 2023 at 07:23

This item reprinted with permission from   Niagara-on-the-lake Local   Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario

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