Wednesday, April 12, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds agency stands by proposal to incinerate sludge


SYDNEY - Calls to switch to an alternative method to clean up the Sydney tar ponds in the middle of the environmental assessment process could delay the project by two years, says the CEO of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency. "To do that, we would have to go back to the two levels of government and get them to agree," said Frank Potter. "It would set the project back . . . up to two years, and thatís the last thing anybody in this community wants."

Vince Hall, a Cape Breton regional councillor, began saying publicly this week that the agency should back a plan to solidify and cap all the sludge in the tar ponds as opposed to the current plan to burn part (120,000 tonnes) of the material ó which contains polychlorinated biphenyls and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons ó in an incinerator to be built at the abandoned coal-wash plant in Victoria Junction.

Austin Smith, president of the Cape Breton University Studentsí Union, also said this week that his group opposes plans to put an incinerator near the university. "An incinerator so close to the university, no matter how safe it is, is not good for the university," he said in a release. "We are worried it will make it more difficult for the university to recruit not only students, but faculty."

Mr. Smith said the cleanup should not be delayed, however.

An independent panel reviewing plans to clean up the tar ponds will begin three weeks of public hearings April 29.

"I want the panel to understand that the leaders and the government partners in this community are prepared to stand behind an alternative that would delete incineration," Mr. Hall said Monday. "If the agency is not clear on that, Iím afraid interest groups will have this whole panel and this whole process so confused at the end of the day that this whole plan will get thrown aside, and weíll be no farther ahead than we were 20 years ago."

But Mr. Potter wonít bite. "We deal with Vince on a regular basis and we understand his concern," he said. "But we are 100 per cent confident that there is no scientific basis for not having an incinerator here." Mr. Potter said the agency will present alternative cleanup options at the panel hearings, including solidifying and capping all the sludge as endorsed unanimously by Cape Breton regional council. And he said the agencyís environmental impact statement confirms that method would be safe and effective. "The conclusion of that report is that yes, that is certainly a viable, acceptable, environmentally sound approach to dealing with the contamination here," Mr. Potter said. "Itís possible that the process could change as a result of the findings from the panel."

The panel must report its findings to the federal and provincial environment ministers by June 30. Both levels of government have come up with a 10-year, $400-million plan to clean up the tar ponds, created during a century of steelmaking.

Mr. Potter said he expects politicians will decide on a cleanup method by this fall and that work will start this time next year. "We canít lose momentum," he said. "People want to see this project move ahead."