Governments pull plug on JAG funding |
Money runs out in September
By Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau
Sydney - JAG's days are numbered.
As of Sept. 18, the government-backed Joint Action Group overseeing the cleanup
of Sydney's two toxic waste sites will no longer be funded.
In a letter Friday to JAG chairman Dan Fraser, the provincial and federal
governments said the citizens advisory group they created in 1996 did what it
was supposed to do - give the community a say in how one million tonnes of
hazardous waste produced by steelmaking in downtown Sydney is handled.
The community's message was relayed just one week ago - JAG members voted
unanimously that government dig up the waste and burn it at an off-site cement
kiln or power station. Government has yet to approve the recommendation.
"This has often been a difficult and demanding journey," the letter said. "JAG
members can take . . . pride in bringing it to a successful conclusion."
The letter was signed by David Darrow, head of the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds
Agency, and Garth Bangay, Atlantic director general for Environment Canada and
came three days before JAG was to meet with government officials to discuss its
role when the cleanup begins, sometime in 2005-06.
The group receives about $330,000 a year - most of it going to pay five
full-time and three part-time staff. The Cape Breton Regional Municipality also
provides JAG with about $200,000 in services like accounting and office space.
The group has also received more than $62 million, most of which was used to pay
for studies of toxins and for removal of a few surface structures like the old
coke ovens batteries.
Government will now assess JAG's work, which wore out hundreds of volunteers and
saw repeated verbal and physical clashes between environmentalists and
government bureaucrats over the years.
"It will be important to assess the lessons learned through this process," the
letter said, suggesting officials will meet with JAG on Monday to discuss ways
to keep the public involved.
Mayor John Morgan said the outcome of that meeting will be interesting. He said
if JAG continues without funding, it could better serve as a watchdog.
"The JAG structure . . . is greatly influenced by the federal and provincial
governments," he said. "When delays occurred on decisions, the community didn't
have an organization clearly independent . . . and often JAG acted as an
apologist" for government.
In the meantime, government wants JAG staff to prepare a budget to last until
Contacted at home, Mr. Fraser said he was disappointed government has decided to
"If it doesn't have a strong agreement with government, the community won't have
a voice," he said. "We weren't there to protect the interests of government but
to protect the interests of the community."
Environmentalist Debbie Ouellette, who was among the families evacuated from
Frederick Street after arsenic was found in basements, disagreed.
"It was never community-driven. It was government- driven," she said. "To tell
you the truth, it's a relief. We spent a lot of hours there . . . and there was
a lot of wasted money and a lot of high-paid consultants who did absolutely