Thurs., Nov. 29, 2007 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Public questions fence covering tar ponds cleanup
By LAURA FRASER Cape Breton Bureau

Just down the road from a French school, crews started pumping water out of the cooling pond at the tar ponds and coke ovens site this week.

But a newly covered fence hides the work from the public’s eye.

The president of the agency managing the cleanup says the project could distract drivers, so a shield was put up for safety reasons.

But a parent of a student at the nearby Centre scolaire communautaire Etoile de l’Acadie says he thinks the project was covered for a different reason. "It was decided . . . by the (Sydney Tar Ponds) agency that they’re going to put a screen up to hide their baby," said the parent, who did not want to be identified. "From an accountability perspective, it just doesn’t (wash). . . . There’s all kinds of other projects going on around there. "What’s to hide?"

Behind the curtain, crews have started the more than three-month process of cleaning up the sludge collected from the run-off of the steel mills.

Water used to chill down hot steel drained into the cooling pond, leaving behind a mixture made from the flakes of molten metal and oil, Frank Potter, president of the tar ponds agency, said in an interview Wednesday.

During the cleanup, the water will be pumped out and treated. Afterward, a cement-like agent will be mixed into the sludge to harden it.

Small amounts of hydrocarbons could be released into the air when the work is going on, Mr. Potter said. "There’s always going to be some noticeable odours, but that doesn’t mean (emissions) are at a dangerous level." He said the contractors will be constantly monitoring emissions levels to make sure they do not harm the surrounding communities.

The regional director of the Acadian school board said that no one has expressed concern to him about the covered fence or the possibility of emissions so close to Etoile de l’Acadie. But Francois Rouleau said that if any issues threatened the children’s safety over the course of the project, the school’s administration would step in. The school was not consulted before the work on the cooling pond began, he said. "To be honest, there was very little contact," he said, adding that the last formal meeting between the school and agency would have taken place about three or four years ago. "I’ll probably try to follow up now."

When asked whether the agency had spoken with administrators at the school about the cooling pond cleanup, Mr. Potter said that a public meeting would be held next week and that they were welcome to attend.