Thursday, May 13, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds activist wants residents moved

By TERA CAMUS / Cape Breton Bureau

SYDNEY - Don Deleskie won't throw away his rubber boots yet.

The grassroots environmentalist, who jumped into the toxic Sydney tar ponds several years ago to protest the snail's pace of the cleanup, stood by the smelly site Wednesday worrying that his battle isn't over.

"We have to move those people out of this place," he said, pointing to the homes located a stone's throw away.

"I'm totally disgusted. . . . Government said they're going to do the job right. And if they're going to do it right, move the people out of harm's way, then move in there with your Tonka toys and move all the materials you want, for however long you want."

Government studies have shown that disturbing 700,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals in the tar ponds or underground at the coke ovens site could be more dangerous than leaving it due to the volume of volatile gases that could escape into the air if no controls are put in place.

Neila MacQueen, a nearby homeowner and cancer sufferer, said she doesn't hold much hope that controls and protecting health will be a top priority given the history of previous cleanup activities.

"I'd like for them to get a technology that will work and keep people safe," she said. "I'd like it to be gone so we can get on with our lives."

Others in the community shared the same thoughts.

"It's a great day for Sydney and the area," Liberal House leader Manning MacDonald said. "It's going to create a lot of work and leave the site esthetically better. . . . There's a will to do this the right way . . . my dream is to eventually see that site restored."

Conceptual drawings of the cleanup by government show the tar ponds and nearby coke ovens with lots of trees, grass, walking trails and an 18-hole golf course.

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking said the politicians' work is not over and neither is the community's.

"This is just the crossroads," he said. "We're going to do it right but we need to keep the feet to the fire."

Sierra Club national president Elizabeth May is also pleased that Ottawa will follow its stringent environmental screening process to review the project's design and mandate once they're filed this fall by the province.

"We are particularly pleased that the federal government has listened to the over 3,000 local residents who asked for an environmental assessment and panel review of any proposed technology," she said.

"A well-focused assessment will help avoid the sort of wrong choices that have plagued cleanup in the past."