JAG rep quits tar ponds liaison group
SYDNEY - A longtime community volunteer has quit the Sydney Tar Ponds
Agency's community liaison committee, saying it is ineffective at
providing input on the $400-million cleanup of the tar ponds and coke
Francis Sirois, a member of the liaison committee since its
inception four years ago and a 13-year representative of the Joint Action
Group, said he decided not to renew JAG's committee membership in March,
citing a lengthy list of problems.
Agency officials say they're sorry to
see Sirois and JAG go and said the issue is a difference of opinion on
what the community liaison committee's mandate is and should be. "The CLC
plays absolutely no role whatsoever," Sirois said. "It was a waste of time
for all of the participants."
The CLC was set up as a sounding board for
community agencies and groups to provide feedback on tar ponds agency
plans and activities. According to its terms of reference, the members are
accountable only to the tar ponds agency, their constituent organizations
and other committee members. It has no formal public information role,
although it has held some public information sessions.
on the committee come from the areas of business, health, labour,
construction, environment, education, recreation, service clubs and
Mandate clear says Chair
Sirois, who has been with JAG since it formed in 1996, listed
several examples of CLC requests for information he said were denied or
ignored. "Most of the time you gave your input and got a polite 'thank
you'," he said.
For example, said Sirois, the agency has consistently
refused to release designs on projects until they are 100 per cent
complete. "In order to have input, it has to be done in a timely fashion;
i.e. when the plans are made. Basically, they want to do it the way they
want to. There's really no opportunity for input.
Sirois said he got the
impression the tar ponds agency simply wants to get the job done with
little regard for the important details that would ensure it is done
He said the agency has already established a poor track record
with subsidence at the cooling pond, a dispute over the size of stones
used to build the Battery Point barrier and permeability problems with the
barrier wall being built elsewhere on the site. "We only get one crack at
this and once the $400 million is spent, we're not going to get any more,"
he said. "I'm concerned it's going to leave us with a monster."
Anderson, executive director of the environmental agency ACAP Cape Breton
and a member of the community liaison committee, said other CLC members
and ACAP's board of directors have expressed concern over the amount of
useful input the committee can provide. However, she said, ACAP has
decided to remain on the committee for now and will reassess its
membership on a regular basis.
"The CLC process has its challenges and it
works differently for everybody," said Anderson. "We have evaluated
whether we should be there and I guess our final decision for now is we
want to be part of the solution."
The CLC's volunteer chair, Sydney
dentist Alastair MacLeod, acknowledge the committee has had some problems,
but said he is confident that it is providing a useful service connecting
the tar ponds agency to various community groups. "We have a clear mandate
and the committee members are pursuing it vigorously," said MacLeod,
adding Sirois was a valued member.
"I regret very much that he is not
going to be on our committee. I asked him to reconsider, but he has
decided not to reapply. He's a highly educated person and invested a lot
"I think the essence of the resignation is disagreement about the
role of the CLC. The role of the CLC as I see it is we're not a lobby
group. Our job is to link the agency charged with the cleanup to our
"The overlying principle is that once we've expressed our
comments, we move on. Francis has a different view. His view is that the
CLC should enquire about the technical work of the agency and try to hold
it to account of the CLC. That's a very different mandate than the one we
have been given."
MacLeod said many of Sirois's questions and concerns
have been addressed by the tar ponds agency, which has proven that it is
listening and making changes when possible. "If there's an opportunity to
amend things, then they do," he said. "If they can't, they say 'We can't
do that' but at least they get to hear what the members think. "What
(Sirois) asks for, he gets at length. I understand it burns up a lot of
the agency's time . . . which frustrates the committee that wants to get
on with the cleanup."
MacLeod and tar ponds agency president Kevin
MacDonald said everyone is focused on getting the job done, but not by
cutting corners. "There are several levels of scrutiny from government and
environmental groups . . . (and) it is impossible for it to proceed in
other than a proper and orderly fashion," said MacLeod. "Each element of
the design is being critiqued by an independent engineer," added
MacDonald. "That, in my opinion, is not the role of the CLC. "I think the
time has come. We're in construction mode now and . . . I wouldn't say
'just get the job done.' It's get the job done on time and on budget.
That's the definition of responsible job management. That's not a
MacDonald also denied the agency has a poor track record,
saying the problems identified so far speak to "the positiveness of our