Wednesday, December 15, 2004 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Environment Minister Stephane Dion hasn't responded to a request by a group of Sydney business leaders for a face to face meeting.

Tar ponds group feels full panel review will snag cleanup process


SYDNEY - A community group headed by Sydney business leaders wants Ottawa to choose a comprehensive assessment instead of a full panel review for the technical definition of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens cleanup process.

The Community Partnership for the Remediation of Muggah Creek has sent three letters to Environment Minister Stephane Dion, asking to meet face to face. The members want to tell him a full panel review will bog down the cleanup process.

The co-chairmen of the group are Bruce Meloney and Keith MacDonald, heads of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce and the local junior chamber of commerce, respectively.

"The cleanup is at a critical juncture," Mr. MacDonald said. "Subjected to a protracted full panel assessment, the cleanup could easily go off the rails and be lost. The community cannot afford another failed effort.

"We want to impress this upon minister Dion," he said.

Mr. Dion hasn't responded to the group's request for a meeting. The Sierra Club of Canada's Cape Breton chapter has called for a full panel review.

At a recent luncheon, Mr. Meloney and the Sierra Club's Bruno Marcocchio got into a loud argument about the merits of a full panel review.

Premier John Hamm said at the same luncheon that the province prefers a comprehensive assessment.

Emma Orawiec, Mr. Dion's press secretary, said Tuesday that slow responses from his office are normal. She said the group's request for a meeting is being considered.

"It comes down to scheduling," she said. "We try to accommodate as many people as possible."

The latest technical definition, drafted by AMEC Earth and Environmental Ltd., was expected to be delivered to the provincial agency overseeing the cleanup today.

If the agency doesn't see any problems, the draft will be sent to the federal government for its seal of approval.

After a one-month public review, the departments of Public Works and Government Services and the Environment would then decide what type of review is necessary: a screening performed by government, a more extensive comprehensive review that's also performed in-house, or a full panel review that's conducted by an appointed expert and includes extensive public consultation.

The tar ponds and coke ovens sites are the result of 100 years of steelmaking under private- and public-sector ownership. The chemicals that remain are a mixed brew of heavy metals like lead and arsenic.

There is 700,000 tonnes of sludge rich with potentially cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons inside the two tar ponds, which cover over 32 hectares in Sydney's downtown core. The 72-hectare coke ovens site also contains 300,000 tonnes of sludge.

The federal and provincial governments are dishing out $400 million to dig up and burn the worst contaminants in a mobile, high-temperature PCB incinerator. The rest of the contaminants will be treated and capped underground.