Tuesday, May 16, 2006 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Sydney could receive big benefits from new tar ponds cleanup policy
Direct return to community could top $200m

By STEVE PROCTOR Business Editor

A Cape Breton business group says a new policy adopted by the Crown corporation overseeing the cleanup of the Sydney Tar Ponds should ensure millions of dollars in benefits will flow through to the community.

Bruce Maloney, head of the Cape Breton Partnership, said Monday the new policy requires that all tenders for any work on the $400-million cleanup effort must include a community economic benefits component.

While there is still no mandated use of local labour, Mr. Maloney said a bidder's commitment to use local companies, local goods and services and become involved with the community will earn the firm "points" that will help them win the final contract.

All project bids are rated on a 100-point scale.

Under the terms of the deal worked out over the past several months, the economic benefits component will now be worth 15 points. The greater the commitment to using local resources, the more points an interested company can be awarded, up to a total of 15 points. As an example, Mr. Maloney said if a bidder commits to using any of the 30 construction firms located in Cape Breton, they earn five points. The other points are earned based on the bidder's ability to do the job, access to capital and the company's record with similar projects.

Dan White, acting economic benefits officer with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said internal studies show if the project is approved by the environmental panel as currently proposed, local direct benefits should top $200 million over the next 10 years. Looking at the spinoff benefits, he said the impact on the community might be closer to $750 million. And the agency is not looking just at short-term benefits. He said bidders are being encouraged to emphasize sustainability in their proposals. "We don't want it to be like the deconstruction of Sydney Steel. They were good jobs while they lasted, but when the building was gone, so were the jobs."

Mr. White said he's optimistic companies involved with the cleanup effort will set up local operations, like testing labs that will continue to employ 30 to 50 people long after the cleanup is over. That kind of initiative could mean another $250,000 boost to the economy over five years.

The economic benefits framework is already incorporated into two major tenders for preventive works recently released by the agency and will be part of bid submissions by three international consortia vying for the major engineering design requirement for the project.

Keith MacDonald, general manager for the partnership, said the deal was a long time in the making because there is a complex mix of agreements on trade and commercial relationships between provinces and countries and the strategy had to be fashioned so as not to contravene agreements. He said there are provisions to review the benefits framework if it is not delivering to the community as expected.

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency plans to dig up and destroy harmful contaminants in the ponds and coke ovens, treat remaining material in place, then contain the sites. An environmental review panel evaluating the plan will hold its final day of hearings on Wednesday. The panel's report is due in mid-July.