Thursday, November 17, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Domtar sludge yet to be fully removed
'Intense' talks underway on disposing of 11 railway cars of material in Sydney

By KELLY SHIERS Staff Reporter

More than three years after a $4-million cleanup began, the last 1,500 tonnes of sludge from the old Domtar storage tank in Whitney Pier is still sitting in Sydney.

The material from the bottom of the tank - a mixture said to be mostly hardened coal tar, gravel and sand - has been bagged and sealed in special containers on railway cars since April or May awaiting disposal.

Last Thursday, the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway hauled nine of the cars carrying 20 containers to Sydney Steel property, which surprised Sysco officials and the provincial agency charged with the cleanup of the tar ponds and coke ovens sites.

The other cars remain on the railwayís property.

"I really canít tell you why the cars are here," said Sysco spokesman Alfie MacLeod, adding the cars were originally loaded from the site as a courtesy because of its proximity to the Domtar project. "They took them out of here and we thought they were gone forever and the other day they landed back on the site."

No one from the railway could be reached for comment.

But Parker Donham, spokesman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said the agency didnít know in advance that the cars were moving to Sysco. He said thereís been "a flurry of phone calls" since then with all the parties involved and there are renewed efforts to deal with the material, but he said he is limited in what he can say about the discussions. "This is at a pretty delicate stage and it could go a lot of different ways," said Mr. Donham. "Intense discussions are underway."

In 2002, Clean Harbours Canada Ltd. was hired to demolish the tank and remove and dispose of the water, raw materials from the coke ovens and other debris - even shopping carts and old tires - found inside.

But the tar ponds agency has been disappointed by the pace of the work. "We hoped it would certainly be all wrapped up by 2003, and here it is in 2005," said Mr. Donham. "The performance has been very slow."

Earlier this month, New Brunswick refused to allow an incinerator in Belledune to burn the material as part of a test it planned for the facility.

Under its contract, Clean Harbours was supposed to take the material to a landfill in Sarnia, Ont., but the company decided against that idea. "Certainly our position is we have a contract with Clean Harbours to remove the material and take it to Sarnia and we expect it to fulfil that. And if they want to take it (to another approved facility) somewhere else, thatís fine," Mr. Donham said.

Dan McMullin, chairman of the Sierra Club of Cape Breton Group, said heíd be happy to see the material stay put until the entire tar ponds cleanup is underway. "We feel it should be set aside and handled safely with the rest of the tar ponds and coke ovens material with the big cleanup."

But Mr. McMullin doesnít want to see the material incinerated, no matter where it goes. "From an environmental point of view, we would object to incineration of this material in our community, in Belledune, anywhere. "Iím worried some poor community somewhere else will agree to accept this material. . . . I donít see where we should victimize any other communities."

Mr. Donham said his agency is looking at its options, but the primary goal is to see the project finished. "We want to enforce the contract and get the job done," he said.

Originally, the price for the work was to be $3.6 million. It has since risen to $4 million, Mr. Donham said.

( kshiers@herald.ca)