Province prepared to start coke ovens cleanup-Russell |
By AMY SMITH and STEPHEN MAHER / Staff Reporters
The Hamm government says the province will start cleaning up the Sydney tar
ponds on its own if it must.
Ron Russell, Nova Scotia's public works minister, says the province could begin
work on what it believes is its share of the project, the coke ovens site,
"very, very soon."
"There is a tar pit there that I think the feds recognize as their
responsibility," Mr. Russell said in an interview. "But we could certainly
start on the coke ovens."
Mr. Russell says that is the province's fallback position. Its preferred option
is for Ottawa to pay for 70 per cent of the cleanup, with Nova Scotia picking
up the other 30 per cent.
"We'd much rather continue to work with the federal government on a cleanup of
the entire site," he said. "It's better to organize the work if both levels of
government are working in co-ordination rather than each one going their
Mr. Russell says he's hoping federal election fever will result in a favourable
announcement from Ottawa on tar ponds funding.
"You never know when you are going to get lucky, and if you are going to get
lucky, just pre-election is a good time," the minister said. "I think it would
be nice if the feds made an announcement in the next few days."
Mark Eyking, the Liberal MP for Sydney-Victoria who has been pushing the tar
ponds file in Ottawa, says negotiations haven't even begun, so the province
shouldn't be talking about what will happen if they break down.
"We just picked our negotiator," he said. "I find it hard to believe, that kind
of tactics, that kind of talk."
Mr. Eyking says he's been working hard since his election in 2000 to convince
the federal government to set aside money for cleaning up the tar ponds. The
Martin government, in its budget this spring, earmarked $500 million over 10
years for cleaning up contaminated sites in which Ottawa shares some
responsibility, including the tar ponds, the only such site specifically
mentioned in the budget documents.
"This generation has both the responsibility and the opportunity to leave this
land better than we found it, and that means cleaning up polluted sites,"
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale said in his budget speech. "As a priority, we
will focus on the tar ponds in Sydney."
But federal officials could offer no specifics on how much money Ottawa will
contribute to the cleanup. They say there are no other shared liability sites,
but that doesn't mean the tar ponds can count on getting all $500 million.
Ottawa isn't insisting that the province pay for half of the cleanup, Mr. Eyking
"I don't think 50 per cent will be enough," he said. "I always convey that we'd
be there at least for 50."
Mr. Eyking says he thinks in the end the province will be satisfied with the
money Ottawa puts on the table.
In February, federal Environment Minister David Anderson said Ottawa is
responsible for just 40 per cent of the site but would pick up half the cost of
the roughly $400-million project. He warned there could be less federal money
for other Nova Scotia projects if Ottawa gives too much to the tar ponds.
Premier John Hamm has argued there is a deal for a 70-30 split. According to the
1999 Canada-Nova Scotia-Cape Breton Regional Municipality cost-sharing
agreement, "level 3, phase 1 remediation will be funded 70 per cent by Canada
and 30 per cent by Nova Scotia."
The province says the 70-30 split is roughly how the ownership of the site is
Ottawa owns the tar ponds, an open waterway leading directly to the Atlantic
Ocean. It also owns portions of the former coke ovens site, where coal was
cooked to make the coke that fired the provincially owned steel plant for