Harbour protection a hot topic on Day 4
By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., May 4, 2006
Sydney - Discourse became a bit heated at Wednesday's panel hearing when
questions turned to contaminated sediment present in Sydney harbour and concern
that contamination levels will climb during the cleanup, bringing more harm to
already burdened marine life.
The start of Sydney's cleanup efforts began in the 1980s when scientists
confirmed that lobster crawling along the harbour's bottom were loaded with
contaminants migrating from the tar ponds. The lobster fishery was closed and
the first cleanup effort got underway. The plan was to suck tar pond sludge
through a pipeline to an incinerator for disposal. The project failed, which
brings us to the current cleanup plan.
Of particular concern to scientists at Natural Resources Canada is the need for
protective measures to prevent more contaminants from travelling to the harbour
when construction begins.
It's known that a barrier included in cleanup plans will be constructed at the
mouth of Muggah Creek from the tip of Battery Point to the Sysco Piers - the
most northern part of the ponds. It's designed to control aroused sediment now
resting in the tar ponds from migrating to the harbour.
The original plan was to
build a coffer dam, but changes were needed to accommodate a history of flooding
along Brookland and Townsend streets. The modifications include a 50-metre gap.
Although the flooding is addressed from an engineering perspective, Natural
Resources Canada is concerned that the opening also allows contaminants to move
from the ponds to the harbour.
Michael Parsons, research scientist with the
federal department, said sediment will be stirred during work on the site,
especially when reinforcement structures are installed in the ponds.
Don Shosky, an expert for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said silk screens
anchored to the bottom of the ocean have shown to have a 90 per cent capture
rate and work well when used properly. As well, turbidity monitors will alert
workers when water gets too dirty.
"Although it's not directly related to (contamination) levels," said Shosky,
"they are used routinely and successfully in a lot of marine environments."
Parsons recommended both short-term and long-term monitoring of the harbour to
provide assurances the harbour won't be harmed during the work.
Future site use continued to be an issue pursued by panel members during
presentations by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Chairperson Lesley
Griffiths asked representatives if they are concerned about the viability of the
sites once they are capped.
"We're addressing that as we move forward," said Ken Swain, director of the
project with the public works department. Swain added that the department
consulted with communities in the United States that had similar cleanups. Those
communities encouraged the department to develop a clear vision for future use
to ensure positive outcomes.
Since then, the department engaged community leaders including the Cape Breton
Regional Municipality, Sydney Airport Authority, Port Authority, and Cape Breton
Swain told Griffiths that he does have some concern about the viability of the
tar pond site, which may be better suited to parkland space. The coke ovens may
be a better match for light-industrial development, he added.
The federal department also told panel members that the $400 million tossed
about by media and other sources as a project estimate, is the funding level
both government levels agreed to spend on "all" project costs, including four
preventative projects now underway.
"What is also important to understand, however, is that these works - including
the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's project management costs and the Independent
Engineers' costs - account for approximately $72.5 million dollars of agreed
upon funding," said Swain. "So I feel its important to point out that we now
have approximately $327.5 million available for the project currently being
assessed by the panel, and not the $400 million, as is commonly quoted in the
media and elsewhere, for the entire initiative."
It was also noted that estimates for the project as currently being assessed,
used 2004 dollars and weren't indexed for inflation rates.
Show us the money. . .
The federal government's commitment to the cleanup of Sydney's tar ponds and
coke oven sites was the subject of concern during Wednesday's hearing in Sydney.
The Cape Breton Post interviewed Ken Swain, director of the project for Public
Works and Government Services Canada, to identify federal funding procedures
needed to secure funding for the project. A Memorandum of Agreement signed by
provincial and federal governments allocates up to $400 million to the total
project, and about $72.5 million is set aside for preventative works,
implementation of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, and the environmental assessment
Q: Cape Breton Post: During (Wednesday's) hearing, you said that funding should
be available subject to changes within the panel's recommendations. What does
that mean for this community?
A: "Ken Swain: The funding is there. It's been committed in the Memorandum of
Agreement. The federal government has committed to fund up to $280 million of
project expenditures. Our understanding is that the funding has been allocated
to this project. What we need to do is determine if there are any modifications
to the project which would perhaps fit in that funding envelope. If there is
significant modification, that indicates that not all that funding is required,
or in fact more funding is required, then we'll have to take the necessary steps
to try and secure that.
Q: Cape Breton Post: What could lead us into an area where government may not
support the project? Will it be a dollar amount or something else?
A: Ken Swain: The government supports the initiative. There's no doubt about
that. As laid out in the Memorandum of Agreement, and the project as briefly
described in the (agreement), which is more extensively described in the project
description evaluated in this process, fits what the funding has been defined
for. Should the recommendations of the panel require an adjustment to that
funding, an adjustment to the project, then we'll have to consider that as we
move forward. It's going to require cabinet approval anyway. According to
federal legislation, we're required to go back to cabinet, so that cabinet is
satisfied with our response to the panel recommendations. We'll start those
deliberations and negotiations and analysis of the panel report as soon as we
receive it. In fact, we've already taken steps to develop a framework for the
process and a decision-making model is proceeding.
Q: Cape Breton Post: How much time will that take?
A: Ken Swain: We hope to be in a position to move forward with recommendations
to secure a cabinet decision in the fall. Concurrent with that, we'll be taking
steps to secure Treasury Board funding. We hope to have all that done by March,
Q: Cape Breton Post: Is there concern about the change in government?
A: Ken Swain: We have none at this point. No.
Cleanup in a click
Web sites that provide information on the joint panel process and the
remediation plan include:
Picture not available for caption below:
Sydney tar ponds employees Cecil Burke and Gordie Skinner keep watch as an
excavator removes samples of sludge from the cooling pond at the tar ponds site.
The samples are being shipped to 11 bidders who have picked up bidding packages
for the cooling pond cleanup, for testing to determine the precise mixture they
would use in stabilizing the sediments. Bidding is limited to companies and
consortia with majority aboriginal ownership.