Landfill Landscapes: How to make a putrid pit into a pristine park
Have you ever thought about what happens when a landfill is so full that there’s no more land to fill? We can’t just leave it open - imagine all the garbage that would float away on the wind, the diseases that would be carried by birds picking through the heaps, or the gases and toxins being released into the environment! Is it possible to put a lid on such a giant blight on our landscape? It turns out that the answer is yes. It’s called Landfill Capping, where a cover is placed over the landfill to isolate the waste and prevent contamination. This includes contamination to groundwater during rainfall, contamination to off-site areas from wind-blown material, contamination of the air due to volatile gases, and contamination to living things through contact with hazardous materials. There are many different options for caps, which can address various site-specific needs. For example, several layers of impermeable materials such as clay, plastics, and concrete may be used to cap a landfill in an area prone to stormwater runoff, to prevent water from carrying contaminants into the groundwater below the landfill. Caps can also provide a safe base layer from which to redevelop the site of a former landfill.
A landfill site in St. Albert followed a similar process in the 1980s and 90s. The landfill was capped and basic park site was developed on top. The landfill had been a sewage lagoon cell in the 1950s and was transformed into a dry landfill in the 1970s. Today, the area is the 30 hectare Riel Park, which features several high-tech multi-use sports fields, a five-acre restored wetland, and recreation facilities which include an RV park, BMX track, and Rodeo Exhibition grounds. How did a pile of refuse turn into a staple community recreation area and nature preserve?
Remediation, above and beyond
Despite the initial capping that occurred in the 1980s and 90s, the landfill under Riel Park did not come close to meeting 21st century standards for environmental protection. Studies found that the Sturgeon River and surrounding natural area were in danger of contamination from leachate, material pollution, and harmful gases released by the landfill. From 2005 to 2015, a $30 million project was undertaken by the City of St. Albert, both to bring the landfill up to modern remediation standards and to improve recreation facilities. On April 2, 2015, Environment Canada verified that the landfill met all requirements needed to protect surrounding natural areas, and a report was soon presented to St. Albert Council summarizing the project. The site will continue to be monitored for 25 years or until it can be proven that concentrations of hazardous substances are below governmental guidelines.
As the largest project of its kind to ever occur in St. Albert, the Riel Park Redevelopment earned a finalist position at this year’s 27th annual Emerald Awards in the Government Institution category. In an interview by the Emerald Foundation, Kristen Glass, an Environmental Management Supervisor with the City of St. Albert, expressed that “the City did want to go above and beyond, and they wanted to redevelop the space into something that could be used by community groups for many generations.” After 10 years of planning, environmental assessment, construction, and development, Riel Park now consists of 8 upgraded soccer and rugby fields which are booked over 10 000 hours each year, a 92-stall RV Campground, a banquet facility, rodeo grounds, and the new Rotary Park with a playground, boat dock, and picnic areas. It also houses Larry Olexiuk football field, honouring a coach who was involved with the St. Albert football community for over 50 years. The field uses a special material under the field to ensure that water can quickly drain while any methane gas from the underlying former landfill can vent out of the field safely. In addition to recreational areas, the Park includes a five-acre restored wetland, the Riel Marsh, which provides habitat for birds, beavers, and waterfowl, among other wildlife.
Explore the site with me!
In a few days, I’ll be inviting you to explore the site with me through a photo essay focused on Riel Park. I would definitely recommend that you take your own trip there - it’s an incredible feeling knowing that the beautiful landscape you’re standing on used to be a stinking cesspool of the refuse from our City. Maybe one day, we’ll be able to divert so much waste from landfills that they won’t need to disrupt the landscape in the first place.