2019 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award nominee: Roger Santiago

Roger SantiagoRoger Santiago, Head, Remediation Unit, Environment Canada (BES 2008, Environment & Resource Studies | MES 2016, Environment & Resource Studies)

Roger Santiago saw the environment co-op program at Waterloo as an opportunity to find his calling. Still an emerging field in the early 1990s, Roger realized a strong science component would help position him for success, so he added a Biology minor to his Environment, Resources and Sustainability program. Leveraging his six co-op terms to try on a variety of careers, Roger’s last co-op, at Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) would prove his suspicions correct and would set the course for his future career.  

It was during this coop term that Roger started his 4th-year thesis paper, developing a program to solicit, screen, review and select proposals for bench scale and pilot scale demonstrations of innovative sediment treatment and removal technologies. With guidance and support from his professors, the paper was a success and the program he proposed was implemented by ECCC over a five-year period. Having essentially created his own job, Roger secured a contract with ECCC and became part of the program team conducting over 20 bench and pilot scale demonstrations. Roger is now the Head of the Sediment Remediation Unit.

The pinnacle of Roger’s career thus far has been the Randle Reef Sediment Remediation Project in Hamilton Harbour. It is the largest contaminated sediment site on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes with some 695,000 cubic metres of contaminated sediment accumulated over 150 years from multiple sources including coal gasification, petroleum refining, steel production, municipal waste, sewage effluent and overland drainage.

Roger has been working on the project since 1994, engaging stakeholders from government, municipalities, industry, local interest groups and academia to come up with an acceptable approach to manage the site. The efforts to select a sediment management option endured two failed attempts in 1995 and 1999, before a 17 agency Project Advisory Group recommended an in-situ remedy in 2002. The result is an environmental clean-up project unique not only in terms of its design, but also in terms of the cooperation between ECCC, the Province of Ontario and the local community (the cities of Hamilton and Burlington, the Hamilton Oshawa Port Authority and Stelco) to fund, implement, monitor and maintain the project long-term.

Implementation of the 138.9 million-dollar project began in 2015. It involves a unique contaminated sediment management approach not found anywhere else in the world, including dredging, isolation capping, thin layer capping, monitored natural attenuation and beneficial reuse to create industrial space. With its 2022 completion in sight, it is estimated that the project will help generate millions of dollars in economic benefits for the local community, including job creation, business development, and tourism.

“Over my years of work, I have gained patience and a perspective of the complexities of enviro-economics,” Roger reflects. Many of the sediment management projects have taken on average fifteen years to implement from project inception to completion.  One of the key stumbling blocks to many of these projects was convincing multiple partners of diverse priorities to understand the socio-economic benefits of their participation. The Randle Reef project is an example of innovation and collaboration being used to clean up a horrible industrial legacy and rejuvenate Hamilton’s waterfront for future generations to enjoy.”