Example of a rocket after removal from a tree.
Example of a rocket after removal from a tree.

Extracting a 1950s-era rocket from a tree is just one challenge crews faced as they scanned parts of an 11.5-ha DND site for unexploded explosive ordnance (UXO) and other debris to prepare it for potential divestiture.

Originally used for coastal defence during the Second World War, the Mary Hill property on the western tip of Vancouver Island has also been a rocket firing range and training area.

"It's a big job with many challenges," says Scott Irwin, Coordinator, Environmental Services, in DCC's Esquimalt office. The site has many steep hills and is home to several sensitive plant and animal species. In addition, the area requiring clean up kept expanding as the project progressed.

As for the rocket in the tree, it likely ricocheted off the cliff face that was the target for the firing exercises, Irwin explains. In the intervening years, the tree, which was a sensitive species, grew around it. Ordinarily, crews would simply have cut it down and, as DND policy requires, plant two in its place.

But, a talented arborist was able to remove the rocket by neatly sawing around it. "DND was very pleased that we didn't have to cut down this sensitive tree," Irwin recalls.

Most of the rest of the debris was picked up by hand and carried out in pails. With portions of the ground covered in a layer of metal several feet thick, crews removed more than 20 tonnes of munitions scrap (and about 5 tonnes of other scrap metal) over the year-long, $1.3-million project.

Next steps for the site include cleaning up other areas, testing for contamination and exploring possible archaeological features.

"It really has been a team effort," says Irwin, of the success in dealing with the challenges so far. "Quality contractors and DCC experts on the ground have been making sure that the work is being done efficiently and safely."

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