Toxic cleanup will be studied again

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Tues., May 3, 2005

SYDNEY - Federal and provincial governments will meet by the end of this week to try to agree on how an independent review of the tar ponds cleanup plans will proceed.

After aggressively campaigning for a comprehensive study, provincial Transportation and Public Works Minister Ron Russell said he is disheartened and disappointed to learn the cleanup will undergo a full panel review. "It risks significant delay, and in the worst case could derail the project altogether," the minister responsible for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said in the legislature Monday.

Although the federal government insists that the environmental assessment will be complete by June 2006, and project costs will be capped at $400 million, Russell said he isn't satisfied.

However, the federal government does have the legal authority to make those decisions, he said. "We will enter into discussions with the Government of Canada about the terms and conditions under which the panel review will take place," said Russell. "We will conclude those discussions within the next two weeks, and then cabinet will consider the province's options." He told the Cape Breton Post that those options include carrying out its own cleanup without Ottawa's help on areas for which it is responsible. "We do have $120 million in the pot."

Although that option is being considered, Russell added it is "very unlikely." Federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion and Public Works Minister Scott Brison told those attending the announcement in Sydney, Monday, that the timelines and costs outlined in the proposed panel review process will be adhered to. The panel, to be appointed by Aug. 30, will also have a clear mandate from government. "We're committed that this will be carried out in a timely fashion," said Brison. "And it must be completed within the financial envelope already established. "There will be a permanent solution to once and for all cleanup the Sydney tar ponds. You deserve nothing less."

Dion said that there were several reasons why he opted for a review panel. One is that the project "is too important to not get right," he said. "I refuse to be a part of any decision that leads to another failed project." Another is that a comprehensive study and a full panel review take about the same amount of time. Although a full panel is more involved, it's also open and transparent, he said. And, although many studies have been done on the toxic sites through the Joint Action Group, none have delved into the cleanup plans proposed by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency in February. "A review panel, independent of government, will provide the best opportunities for public involvement," said Dion. "It will also identify all necessary measures to ensure that the cleanup of the tar ponds and coke oven sites is done in a way that protects the environment and health."

Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said she has participated in more than a dozen full panel reviews and it's rare for a minister to attach a deadline on the process.

Sierra club president says she recommended tight deadlines for independent review
She said it shows that those who lobbied hard for a comprehensive study because of possible delays and the fear of costly alternatives had their concerns heard. May said she was particularly pleased the announcement was made before the federal cabinet was ordered to stay in the capital amid fears about opposition efforts to, topple the minority government. "Thank God they made the announcement (on Monday)," she said. "Dion did this in an unbelievably quick turnaround."

May said she recommended tight deadlines and doesn't feel the panel will be pressured to produce a report for government. "We are concerned about keeping it on track," she said.

Bruce Meloney, president of Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, said he's not sure the environmental assessment can be done in the short time frame proposed. "It opens the doors for new technologies and new ideas," said Meloney. However, he will support government in its decision. "I have no choice," said Meloney. "I'm going to have to support them."

Debbie Oulette, a former Frederick Street resident, said she took comfort in Dion's decision. She was one of many volunteers who collected more than 3,000 signatures asking the federal government for a full panel review of the cleanup project. "All we ask for is to make it safe for us and for all of our children."