JAG consultation underestimated cost of tar ponds cleanup

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Mon., May 2, 2005

SYDNEY - The final public consultation on the Sydney cleanup, conducted under the Joint Action Group nearly two years ago, simplified the risks and vastly understated the likely price tags on the available options.

An internal federal government report, obtained by the Cape Breton Post, indicates that costs and possible timelines for most of the options bear little resemblance to what was presented for public feedback in the JAG workbook exercise.

The public favoured a plan of pretreating the toxic waste and co-burning the material, an option priced at the time in a Remedial Action Evaluation Report at about $440 million. It would take up to seven years to complete.

A government team that took a closer look at the options estimated that in the worst case the actual cost of the option preferred by most people could climb as high as $1.1 billion and take up to 18 years.

Risks could drive up costs

The internal report cautioned that co-burning the waste is an unproven technology when it comes to large volumes of contaminated soil like that at the toxic sites.

Whether or not the amount of PCBs have been accurately estimated is also a risk not considered in the RAER. And, items such as HST, insurance, and shorter construction seasons were not calculated.

In total, 18 risks were identified by the federal government as potentially increasing the length and cost of the project when it came to implementing many of the RAER options.

Since then, government has said it will incinerate PCB-contaminated waste and cap the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites a combination not presented to the community for feedback. It's possible that the current Sydney cleanup plan will continue to be redefined.

In the coming days, government will announce which firm it hired to produce a pre-design plan that will delve deeper into incineration and capping.

The completed document will finalize remediation methods plus possible cost estimates. But that isn't the final step. The pre-design plan will undergo a full panel review or undergo a comprehensive study, which may result in more changes.

Ross Woodworth, project manager with Public Works and Government Services Canada,said the government's current cleanup plan is estimated to cost about $250 million but could approach $400 million when all potential risks are considered.

Both the provincial and federal governments have earmarked up to $400 million for the project.

tcmacdonald@cbpost.com