Tar ponds: do the best with money we have, quickly
By Greg MacLeod
SYDNEY: High school students discussing the tar ponds have made a very sensible point. They told us that we should pay more attention to the end-use of the site. I was on the original JAG board and we were clearly told by federal representatives that the task was twofold, remediation and end-use, and that budget would be provided for both.
It seems to me that the end-use has not been fully discussed by the public. In this issue, I think the municipality should lead. I suspect the other levels of government have competing claims for money to fund environmental problems in other places. For municipal government, the priority is local improvement. The municipality should be the link between the local community and the federal and provincial governments. CBRM could be the force to unplug the process. It should insist that there be no further delays and that adequate funds be allocated to end-use.
Remediation concerns the total health of the community: psychological, spiritual, economic and cultural, as well as physical well-being. Remediation must be more than simply getting rid of PCBs and other toxic substances. End-use has broad implications for community health. I would like to see a clear allocation of budget for end-use. CBRM is poor and will not be able to develop these lands, which are in the heart of Sydney. We could be left in a situation where the money is used up in remediation and nothing is left for development of access roads and facilities for business, culture and recreation.
Having heard much debate, and especially having heard the input of health authorities about the psychological stress associated with incineration, I would be satisfied with solidification and encapsulation of the site. I would be willing to forgo incineration. I understand that incineration would cost about $100 million. I would much prefer to see that $100 million spent in the end-use of the site.
We should do the best we can with the money we have. There should be no further delay. We have spent too many years discussing the tar ponds and we have suffered psychologically and economically from the discussions. There is no perfect solution. Whatever is proposed will have problems, but I do not believe the negatives are serious enough to slow the process. We must choose the solution that causes the least harm and provides the most benefit.
I have lived within 300 yards of the tar ponds for over 25 years. I am amazed that, in spite of the pollution in the past, the air quality in Sydney is equivalent to that of Halifax and is better than that of Toronto.
I give credit to the Sierra Club for making us more aware of environmental problems. It deserves credit for forcing the formation of a review panel. I also understood that it would accept the decision of the review panel; otherwise, we will have to start all over again. Worst of all, the federal government could develop a deficit and the $400 million could disappear.
In many ways, the tar ponds site could be a dynamic centre for renewal of the community. Street systems could be improved to make more positive linkage between Whitney Pier and downtown Sydney and the Spar Road. The site could be developed to provide a more positive future for the citizens. It could be a marvellous site for many kinds of development.
Besides being a prime space for new business and recreational development, it could include a multi-million-dollar steel museum, using modern digital technology to chronicle not only the history of steel-making, but the incredibly rich history of the area that developed around the industrial boom at the beginning of the 20th century.
As well as being a world-class tourist attraction, this also could be the site for innovation and research. In Poitiers, France, the government set up a museum of technology which cost over $100 million. Today, that centre attracts more tourists than the Paris Disneyland. Further, a whole string of high-tech businesses developed around the Poitiers site. The Sydney site could also include modern research and development centres where our young people could join in setting up new industries for the future which may not depend on producing physical things. Surely, there will be funds for a university related research centre so our graduates will have jobs in remediation, not only in Cape Breton but all around the world.
We must do the best we can with the money we have. We should spend at least $100 million for the end-use, and use the rest to encapsulate and solidify in such a way that we can make the site the new heart of Sydney. I do not believe incineration is especially harmful, but if a significant number of people are opposed to it, then it should be eliminated so we can proceed. We should not tolerate delays in beginning the work.
A considerable amount of the funds should be set aside as a contingency fund, especially if there is no incineration. The interest income could be used for site maintenance and the principal could be available for capital projects that may be required for any possible toxic emissions.
Greg MacLeod is a professor emeritus at Cape Breton University.