Wed, June 25, 2008 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Tar ponds critic: They meant to leave us out

By LAURA FRASER Cape Breton Bureau

Sydney - The agency overseeing the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site has purposefully excluded the Sierra Club of Canada from the community group that gives feedback about the project, an environmental activist has charged.

The Cape Breton chapter of that environmental group learned in May that it lost out on a seat on the project's community liaison committee, Bruno Marcocchio said. Mr. Marcocchio has been an outspoken critic of the way the cleanup of the site has been handled.

He said he believes the Sierra Club has been sidelined because the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency wants to silence its critics rather than get real feedback.

"They don't want anyone who will ask them pointed questions," he said Tuesday. "And, respectfully, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked" before the solidification of the sludge in the tar ponds begins.

But a spokeswoman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said the Sierra Club would not have been excluded for being critical of the project.

The agency sorts through those who applied for membership, then makes its recommendations to an outside panel made up of federal and provincial representatives, Tanya Collier MacDonald said. That panel has final approval of who makes it onto the liaison committee.

The committee is made of up of representatives from different sectors, including the environment, education, business and health.

When memberships were renewed last March, the Sierra Club was up against ACAP Cape Breton, an environmental research group, for a seat in the environment section of the committee.

"To say that one (organization) is more critical than the other, I don't think that comes into play here," Ms. Collier MacDonald said. "These are all members of this community that want to see this done safely and effectively."

ACAP's membership was renewed because it has better representation throughout Cape Breton than the Sierra Club and has already been working well with the committee for several years, Ms. Collier MacDonald said.

Mr. Marcocchio said he's concerned about the transparency of the selection process. He sent a letter Monday to the commissioner on the environment and sustainable development, who is an assistant federal auditor general, asking that the Sierra Club be given membership on the community liaison committee.

"They obviously have selected the same group over and over again," he said. "The Sierra Club has been a major player going back decades into the cleanup of the tar ponds."