Sunday, June 5, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds cleanup: Let's get on with it


I found Parker Donham's opinion article of May 19 ("Tar ponds cleanup: for the record") both amusing and disturbing. Back in his "green" days, before he left journalism for a provincial government job, Parker wrote scathing reviews of the province's handling of the tar ponds file.

In a May 6, 2001, Daily News article, Donham actually praised Bruno Marcocchio: "Alas, federal and provincial environment officials ignored warnings from environmental gadfly Bruno Marcocchio, and unwisely exempted the (tar ponds) project from normal environmental assessment protocols. As a result, they failed to detect pockets of deadly PCBs that could not be safely burned at the incinerator's operating temperature."

How Donham's tune has changed! Nowadays, Parker seems compelled to denounce every single Sierra Club press release, every word from Marcocchio's mouth. Parker claims Bruno's opinion article of May 10 ("Nova Scotia, not Ottawa, delaying tar ponds cleanup") "brims with misinformation," so let's examine Donham's complaints one by one.

First, Parker claims that "the Joint Action Group's 'final recommendation' was not soil washing," but indeed, JAG's formal motion of May 10, 2003, supports Tar Ponds Option 3, described in the Community Workbook as "Soil Washing and Co-burning."

Donham then maintains, "The federal-provincial clean-up plan was not 'the option rated least preferable by residents.' " Once again, if we examine the preamble of the same May 10 JAG motion above, we see comments such as, "The community feels very strongly that the Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens site remediation should not include capping and containment . . ." and "On-Site incineration has the least community support of the destruction technologies." These important quotations would support Marcocchio's claim that local residents do not approve of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's current "burn and bury" plan. On March 9, 2005, the Sierra Club Cape Breton Group delivered a 4,445-name petition against incineration to federal Public Works Minister Scott Brison. Clearly, CBRM residents do not want a toxic waste incinerator in their midst.

Regarding Mr. Donham's insistence that Transportation and Public Works Minister Ron Russell "did not say that the provincial government had 'never committed to take the JAG recommendation into account,' " I offer a quote from Russell's October 2004 response to an Edmonton soil-washing firm's inquiry: "At no time did governments indicate they would be bound by the results of the workbook sessions or the JAG recommendation." Not exactly a ringing endorsement by the province of the expensive JAG process and its recommendations.

As Mr. Donham would say, "I could go on, but you get the point." The time has come for the Nova Scotia government and its Sydney Tar Ponds Agency to answer important questions about the remediation solutions they present as "safe, proven, effective." A full panel environmental review has been announced, and the expert panel will demand more than Donham's clichés and glib comments.

Regarding the horrendous project delays, Donham claims "there is more than enough blame for everyone to share." I suggest that blame lies squarely with the province and its agency, the STPA. From the "never-ending" Domtar Tank project to Nova Scotia's more recent delay in accepting the decision for a full panel review, the province has mired itself in bureaucratic bungling.

The Joint Action Group announced its final remediation recommendation on May 28, 2003, and yet a full year passed before, on May 12, 2004, the province finally announced its choice of clean-up technologies. May 2005 has also come and gone with nary a drop of sludge removed from the ponds! Even the non-contentious so-called "preventive measures," like cleaning up the Sysco cooling pond and the realignment of Coke Ovens Brook, seem to drag on forever - it will soon be a full year (July 16) since an STPA engineer hailed the brook realignment as "the first 'concrete' step in cleaning up the Sydney tar ponds." We're still waiting for the province to take action.

In the words of former journalist Parker Donham (Daily News: May 6, 2001), "Stop dithering and clean up the Tar Ponds."

We need to stop the bickering and sniping, roll up our sleeves and get the job done in an atmosphere of co-operation and openness. The clock is ticking. Let's get on with it.

Dan McMullin is chairman of the Sierra Club Cape Breton Group.