PROGRESS 2006 - Community View

Local businesses should benefit from tar ponds cleanup

Citizens would do well to reflect on the types of post remediation land use that would be best for our community

By Pat Bates
Cape Breton Post
Wed., April 26, 2005

In the latter part of July 2005, the Cape Breton Post printed a series of articles I wrote on the subject of maximizing industrial and economic benefits locally from expenditures on the cleanup of the tar ponds. The Post printed a number of commentaries on my suggestions received from prominent local people interested in the subject and generally supportive of the recommendations I made.

I've received considerable feedback on the material personally, much supportive, yet some of it critical and skeptical.

A directive or a decree to the project manager from project owners signaling the importance of maximizing local benefits is an essential step. As I had mentioned earlier, a plan or a blueprint to achieve such an objective is also essential.

I had used several examples of economic benefits again secured on other projects. However, I failed to provide an adequate explanation of the type and spreads over which benefits can be gained. For example, meetings with prospective contract bidders and consultants held locally as opposed to off island or out of province bring income to taxi operators, hotels, restaurants and airlines. Printing firms, caterers and office temps can secure business in this manner.

A benefit plan emphasizing local content as a first measure will endorse local employment, partnering between successful non-local bidders with firms resident to the locality as well as exploring opportunities with successful off-island bidders for off-sites (non project related benefits).

The matter of economic/industrial benefits should be viewed in two respects. First, the near term and more immediate impact should be the employment and business activity generated through the first series of planned contracts both preceding and at the project launch. The second component relates to a planned and conscious approach to lever initial contract awards to create new and expand existing capacity. This requires collaborative planning between all relevant players and a will to set the remediation project within a much wider context. Creation of infrastructure and new alliances with the educational and health care institutions are obvious areas to identify initiatives that expand a community's capacity to grow. Brokering partnering arrangements between non-resident firms and local firms provides good opportunities for technology transfer, all with the objective of nourishing new and sustainable growth.

There is currently a community group preparing plans for a Sydney steel museum. This type of project and others of a similar nature potentially could be expanded to include a "tar ponds remediation interpretive or demonstrative center." While we may be hard pressed to associate tourism with the tar ponds cleanup, imaginative thinking can design a steel and remediation interpretative center with a positive rather than negative image that has appeal as a tourism travel generator while displaying the cultural aspect of our industrial history. Sydney Tar Ponds Agency can play an important facilitation role not a funding role in brokering these type of projects. The conventional participants ACOA - ECBC, N.S. Business Development Inc., and N.S. Economic Development would be expected to respond to a well developed community based plan to move forward.

Local economic development agencies or associations could serve the community well by looking beyond the work of the review panel, by identifying, publishing and leading in promoting and encouraging more local business involvement and by taking the available forms of economic and business supports to specific economic and business options.

There is considerable speculation as to the most appropriate use of reclaimed tar ponds lands post remediation. It is entirely possible that a new neighborhood configuration featuring new concepts in residential housing design and construction could be of greater utility than say, another golf course. The planners within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality need to become more pro-actively involved in the post remediation use of these lands to ensure their eventual use fits within the medium- and long-term planning exercises for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Citizens would do well to reflect on the types of post remediation land use that would be best for our community. Our economy is being re-engineered and we should be part of that process.

In conclusion, it is important to support combined efforts, some of which are underway to expand and effectively manage steps to maximize project related current and long-term or post-remediation economic/industrial benefits. The new Industrial Benefits Working Group set up under the auspices of the Cape Breton Partnership is a welcome start.

(Pat Bates is the chairman of the Bras d'Or Stewardship Society and an active volunteer in other community endeavours.)