Shots Traded Over Review
Summer winds down without word on the type of cleanup assessment
The Issue: Delay feared from broad review
Cape Breton Post Editorial
Mon., Sept. 13, 2004
Professional propagandists on either side of the Sydney
cleanup issue got to practice their craft last week in a brief
burst of fire over the type of environmental assessment
that should be done. Sydney Tar Ponds Agency spokesman
Parker Donham labelled the comments by Sierra Club of Canada
executive director Elizabeth May, and Atlantic campaign director
Bruno Marcocchio, as "the same old tired rhetoric," claims that
are "not just stale" but "demonstrably wrong."
This was after May had reiterated some familiar objections to
tar ponds incineration and chided governments for refusing to
undertake either widespread remediation in the community or
relocation of residents. Marcocchio added that the joint government
plan announced in May, proposing that only relatively small
amounts of contaminated material be removed and destroyed, is
"a coverup, not a cleanup."
Old and tired this may be, in the sense that we've heard it all
before, but the demonstrable error has yet to be established in any
formal way. Claims and counter-claims will get some sort of final
test but the hot question since the announcement has been
whether the forum will be a full panel environmental assessment
or a less demanding comprehensive review.
The Sierra Club comments were in apparent reaction to the
move by the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce and JCl:
Cape Breton to mobilize a coalition of like-minded groups to push
for a quick start to the cleanup, beginning with the lighter of the
two assessment options under consideration.
This has been characterized as a time issue, which may be misleading.
May insists that a properly constituted and instructed
panel could do its job in as little a time as six months, or certainly
within the time-frame set out for environmenal assessment. The
more significant issue is that the comprehensive review is categorized
as a self-directed process, where it's up to the proponent
to show that its plan is sound and environmentally responsible.
The government plan would be the central reference point of the
review. The full panel assessment, by contrast, offers a better
chance of getting consideration for alternatives and issues not
addressed in the proponent's project, offerimg at least the
hypothetical prospect of getting rejected alternatives back on the table.
That sends shudders through the fast-track constituency which
imagines the project being Altered for fundamental redesign and
another round of funding negotiation, though the potential for
such an outcome shouldn't be exaggerated. May was hoping, and
apparently expecting, that a fall panel review would be announced
within days of the project unveiling and that the actual panel
would be able to work through the summer with a wide-open agenda.
"If we wait until the project is defined," she said at the time,
"we're not able to thoroughly access and explore the options which
are more appropriate from an environmental and health aspect."
Obviously that hasn't happened. It appears we'll have to await
the submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment
Agency of the detailed project description in mid-October before
we'll know what sort of assessment will be ordered.
Just because the Sierra Club claims there are better, practical
alternatives to the government proposal doesn't mean there are.
May's claim that Sydney can have what she calls a top-of-the-line
cleanup in place of the burn-and-bury scheme proposed, for the
same price of $400 million just doesn't sound credible at this point.
The community indicated in spring 2003, in the wrap-up of the
Joint Action Group process, that it favoured removal and destruction
(without local incineration) of contaminated materials from
the tar ponds and coke ovens site. Well, like, duh, who wouldn't?
Government officials later claimed that, for one thing, the costs
cited in that community consultation were wildly understated.
The project as subsequently announced tends to bear this out.
The solutions have to be realistic. Regardless of the review
process chosen, we should expect that those in charge of the
assessment will appreciate that point.