Friday, March 5, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

CP file
This aerial view of Sydney shows the tar ponds that are believed to contain about 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge. The province announced Thursday it will spend $3 million to dismantle an aging incinerator.

to be scrapped

Dismantling by tar ponds group ups province's bill to $58 million


SYDNEY - A multimillion-dollar incinerator that was supposed to burn waste from the infamous Sydney tar ponds site will be decommissioned and dismantled.

The decision was made Thursday by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, the provincial body responsible for the cleanup of 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge from a century of steelmaking and coke production in Sydney.

In the early 1990s, $44 million in taxpayers' money was spent to build the incinerator about a kilometre from the tar ponds.

Testing and annual maintenance work pushed the total bill to $55 million.

But the waste proved too thick and inconsistent in its makeup to flow through the pipeline meant to transport it to the incinerator.

Some components in the incinerator have deteriorated over the years, and the province said the cost would be too great to refurbish it.

"The incinerator has been idle for more than 10 years and bringing it up to current standards would cost more than $10 million," Public Works Minister Ron Russell said in a news release.

"This fact, along with the results of last year's consultation on cleanup options, led us to conclude that continuing to maintain this facility makes little sense."

During sessions the Joint Action Group sponsored last year, many area residents indicated they did not wish to see the incinerator reactivated.

A school has been built near the incinerator since it was constructed.

Premier John Hamm said this week that the method to be used in the tar ponds cleanup would be announced "in the very near future."

It will take about six months to dismantle the incinerator, at a cost of about $3 million, said Gary Campbell, executive director of the tar ponds agency.

The work is expected to create more than 10,000 hours of employment for local workers.

Russell, in his release, said every effort will be made to find buyers for all or some of the incinerator components, and components that cannot be sold will be scrapped.

Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse said the incinerator project has been "nothing more than a multimillion-dollar boondoggle."

"The closure of the incinerator also means lost jobs for hard-working people who have been employed for many years in this industry," the New Democrat said. "Because of government mismanagement, we're going to see more Cape Bretoners out of work."

Gosse said the provincial government keeps telling people to brace for a tough budget.

"On the other hand, we see these kinds of examples of financial mismanagement. This project was mishandled from the beginning, and the taxpayers have been forced to pick up the tab."

Parker Donham, a spokesman for the tar ponds agency, said it's still possible that waste from the site will be incinerated.

Donham said a movable incinerator could be brought in, or a more viable model could be constructed in the Sydney area.

With the scrapping of the incinerator, the province announced it will combine the operations of Sydney Environmental Resources Ltd. and Sysco.

Both provincial Crown corporations are involved with continuing cleanup work at the site.

The primary purpose of Sydney Environmental Resources was the maintenance of the incinerator but its demise means one of the corporation's major areas of responsibility has ended.

It also acted as a labour pool co-ordinator for the cleanup, placing former steelworkers in demolition and cleanup jobs with Sysco.

Bringing the organizations together will improve the co-ordination and efficiency of that activity, a provincial news release said.

The corporations will share a board of directors.

The management team will continue to be led by John Traves, a senior government official and the president of Sysco.