Thursday, April 29, 2010 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds cleanup back on schedule

By JEFFREY SIMPSON Provincial Reporter

Management changes to the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency have put the $400-million project to clean up the hazardous waste site back on track.

David Darrow, the deputy minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, told the legislature’s public accounts committee Wednesday he now believes the project will be within budget and completed by the 2014 deadline. "We’ve turned the corner," Darrow said in an interview after the session.

Darrow had warned the Finance Department two years ago of problems within the agency, describing it as dysfunctional and lacking leadership. He pushed for an independent operational audit, which Grant Thornton completed that year.

Potential cost overruns were especially worrisome because the province would have been on the hook for the entire amount, although it was only responsible for 30 per cent of the project’s budget, with the rest being picked up by Ottawa. "There was slow decision-making," Darrow said. "There were problems with communications within segments of the organization. I think those were the biggest concerns."

After the audit, the province put a new chief executive, Kevin MacDonald, in place at the tar ponds agency. He replaced Frank Potter, who went to Nova Scotia Lands Inc. Darrow said the former CEO had more of an environmental background, which was useful during that phase of the project. His replacement is an engineer with experience in managing big projects. "The project two years ago was going through a major transition from an environmental planning project," he said.

Darrow also told the committee that $97 million of a decommissioning fund for the Sydney Steel Corporation site has been spent, leaving $82 million available to finish the job. "There’s still potential for risks and surprises down the road but we think we’ve managed those very well," he said. "The proceeds from the sale of scrap metal were greater than we had originally estimated."