Friday, April 29, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Activist joins call to reject full-panel tar ponds review


SYDNEY - A well-known priest and community business leader is urging the federal environment minister not to choose a full-panel review to assess the tar ponds cleanup.

Rev. Greg MacLeod has written an open letter to Stephane Dion, asking the minister to chose a comprehensive study to assess the cleanup.

Father MacLeod, a retired Cape Breton University professor, and founder of New Dawn enterprises, a non-profit community development agency, says that a plebiscite would show that the community backs this approach.

"I am confident that such a vote would endorse a comprehensive study approach by a lopsided margin," Father MacLeod writes in his open letter.

He says a number of local community groups, as well as the Cape Breton district health authority and Cape Breton Regional council, are in favour of a comprehensive study as the most appropriate and efficient way of assessing the cleanup project.

A debate over the type of environmental assessment needed for the cleanup has raged since late 2004.

Federal officials are collecting opinions before recommending to the Environment Department whether to continue a comprehensive study, which has already begun, or switch to a full-panel review, led by an independent expert.

John Malcom, CEO of the Cape Breton district health authority, said recently his board and staff feel a comprehensive study could provide all the benefits of a full-panel review without its risks, like taking too long.

"We have discussed the problem for 23 years," said Father MacLeod, who spent four years as a member of the defunct Joint Action Group, a committee struck to explore cleanup options.

"The community is tired. We believe your government has received a false impression from a small number of vocal individuals who favour a full-panel review.

"It is apparent to anyone who lives here that a broad community consensus favours the more expeditious comprehensive study," Father MacLeod said.

The stigma arising from the tar ponds has had a "devastating impact" on the city's well-being, said Father MacLeod.

"It has made economic development and professional recruitment almost impossible," he said.

Last month Cape Breton Regional council said a full-panel review, which could take 12-18 months and would be managed by a group of experts and scientists appointed by Mr. Dion, would simply duplicate the efforts of the Joint Action Group.