Monday, January 23, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Businesses hope to cash in on Sydney tar ponds cleanup

Agency studying its needs


The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency is working to ensure Cape Breton companies get their fair share of the $400 million in government money dedicated to the tar ponds cleanup. "We’re not necessarily saying preference to a local company over a come-from-away company," said Barbara Stead-Coyle, the agency’s co-ordinator of economic benefits. "What we’re talking about is an overall plan that looks to optimize long-term and short-term benefits locally."

The federal and provincial governments have proposed a 10-year, $400-million plan to clean up the Sydney tar ponds, the toxic result of nearly a century of steelmaking in industrial Cape Breton.

Ms. Stead-Coyle said the agency is now conducting a study to determine what infrastructure, materials, labour and training will be needed to complete the cleanup. She said that information will be presented to local businesses at a workshop slated for late February or early March. "We’ll educate them on the requirements of the cleanup as a whole. For example, how many truck drivers and how many backhoe operators we’ll need for the entire project."

The workshop will take place before a joint review panel makes its final recommendations on the cleanup to the federal environment minister. The panel has been asked to report by June 30.

On Jan. 3 the agency released an environmental impact statement, which proposes stabilizing 580,000 tonnes of sludge on-site and shipping 120,000 tonnes of sludge contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons to Victoria Junction for incineration.

Many residents near the Victoria Junction site and beyond oppose the incineration plan and the panel could recommend another cleanup method based on such opposition. But Ms. Stead-Coyle said it’s important that the tar ponds agency meet with local businesses before the review panel makes its final recommendation.

"We thought that it was really important to start talking to the community now," she said. "Tendering and procurement is happening on a small scale now and no one’s really familiar with what we’re tendering or what we’re buying."

Ms. Stead-Coyle said the local business community will be updated if the cleanup plan changes this summer. She said that every business, whether local or off-island, that submits a tender for work related to the cleanup must include a local economic benefits package with its proposal.

Ms. Stead-Coyle said the package might include plans to hire locally, partner with local firms, purchase equipment from local suppliers and support local research and development. "We’ll ask them to get creative and see what they put forward," she said. "If you specifically tell them what you’re looking for, you’re limiting the possibilities." But Ms. Stead-Coyle said the agency has general goals. "One of the big things we really want to do is ensure we’re transferring knowledge to our local workforce," she said. "That we are training younger employees with skills that they can then take forward and export on other projects." She said the economic benefits packages will be taken into consideration when contracts are awarded.

Keith MacDonald, acting general manager of the Cape Breton Partnership, said the organization has formed a team of more than 35 Cape Breton businesses interested in pursuing cleanup work. "We want to work with the provincial and federal partners on identifying the opportunities so that local companies can form possible business relations," said Mr. MacDonald. "The tar ponds cleanup is an enormous project."