Sydney dentist to head tar ponds liaison committee

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Wed., Jan. 26, 2005

Government has announced its list of groups that will be its "sounding board" during the remediation of the tar ponds and coke ovens sites.

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency announced that 15 "well-known community groups" are invited to appoint delegates to a community liaison committee headed by Alastair MacLeod, a Sydney dentist.

The membership includes health-focused representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society and the Cape Breton District Health Authority.

Industry, business, and labour will be represented by the Canadian Council for Human Resources in the Environment Industry, the Metro Cape Breton Junior Chamber, Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Cape Breton Partnership, Local 1064 United Steelworkers and the Cape Breton Construction and Building Trades Council.

Other grassroots organizations include the Cape Breton Black Employment Partnership, the Northend and Area Community Association, University College of Cape Breton, Joint Action Group and St. Andrew's Church.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality, ACAP Cape Breton and Membertou band council also have seats on the committee. Purposely omitted from the lineup is representation from the Sierra Club of Canada - the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's most outspoxen critic.

Sierra Club's application for membership may be accepted later: Potter

Frank Potter, spokesperson for the the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said senior levels of government chose not to accept the group's application this year but aren't banning it from the process indefinitely. "Who knows" said Potter. "Next year, maybe they'll be a nicer, kinder group." Potter said governments' past experience with the national environmental advocacy group has shown that its involvement is not conducive to working with others in a peaceful manner.

As well, previously held community consultations showed that if the committee met in a public forum, some individuals would be discouraged from participating, said Potter.

Bruno Marcocchio, spokesperson for the Cape Breton group of the Sierra Club of Canada, said it's clear government has excluded stakeholders with serious concerns about the cleanup plan. Instead, government selected "cheerleaders" who want to spend the $400 million earmarked for the project at any cost.

Marlene Kane, an environmental activist and longtime member of the Joint Action Group, was selected by the Sierra Club to be its representative "for the sake of not muddying the waters with claims of personality conflicts," said Marcocchio. Kane tirelessly followed the JAG process and is a well-respected member of the community. "To exclude her is unconscionable," he said. "It underscores the need for a full panel review. We, as a community, can't be shut out." Marcocchio said Sierra Club members will be actively discussing its exclusion and he expects its response will be "fairly forcefull."

In the committee's expression of interest, it's reported the volunteers will work to ensure a two-way flow of information between project managers and the organizations represented in the group. Committee members will be permitted to ask questions and provide feedback. The group will have monthly meetings that are closed to the public, including the media.

Alastair MacLeod, who is also president of the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce and a former president of the Centre Bras d'Or Association, said in-camera sessions are necessary. "If the CLC is to be effective, it must be able to get involved in candid conversations," he said. "In a private ahnnosphere, that's likely to happen. I'm quite comfortable with that."

MacLeod said committee members will be encouraged to give feedback to government on proposals during ongoing remediation efforts. "This is extremely important to the future of Sydney," said MacLeod. "My role is to chair it and make sure we listen carefully to information given by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency. "The end is in sight," he said. "People can now start considering what kind of Sydney they want."