Sydney Tar Ponds Agency bars Sierra Club from clean-up committee

Canadian Press
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record
Thurs., July 3, 2008

Sydney, NS - The Sierra Club of Canada has been barred from having a voice on a Sydney tar ponds cleanup committee because of its constant questioning of the $400-million project, says an official for the environmental group.

Dan McMullin, chairman of the Cape Breton chapter of the Sierra Club, said last week that the reasons given by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency for the snub "are scant." "Theyíve never ever given us any real reasons for why, but we suspect that the reason is because we ask too many questions that are directly related to the process," he said.

In 2003, the Sierra Club submitted its first rejected application for membership on the 15-member community committee, which is designed to be a sounding board for the cleanup of the tar ponds and former Sydney Steel cokes oven site.

It applied again in March, but lost out to ACAP Cape Breton, a non-profit charitable community organization. Tanya Collier MacDonald, spokesperson for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said ACAP Cape Breton has served on the committee for several years.

The community committee is comprised of a cross-section of organizations with significant track records in business, health, organized labour, environment, the construction industry, post-secondary education, First Nations, recreation, community service, or religion. Those selected this year will maintain the position for three years.

McMullin said itís obvious the Sierra Club will never get to sit on the committee and he believes itís because of Bruno Marcocchio, a Sierra member who has been an outspoken and sometimes disruptive critic of cleanup plans. "Well, Bruno was never on the application form as the person that would be sitting down with the other members," said McMullin. He said community activist Marlene Kane was offered as a nominee, with himself as an alternative.

There are 700,000 tonnes of contaminated sediment in the tar ponds, containing toxic amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as well as a brew of heavy metals and other substances.

The federal and Nova Scotia governments ended 20 years of false starts and broken promises last year by announcing another plan to fix the blighted landscape in the heart of industrial Cape Breton.

Since 1986, there have been three other multimillion-dollar cleanup plans, all of which led nowhere. Under the latest project, which will take until 2014 to complete, the PCB-laden sludge will be mixed with concrete and other hardening agents, then covered over.

Critics of the plan, including federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, say it wonít get rid of the problem. Environmentalist David Suzuki has called covering up the pollution "a stupid answer" to a terrible problem.