Type of environmental assessment isn't decided

By Chris Shannon
Cape Breton Post Front page
Thurs., May 13, 2004

SYDNEY - The funding has been announced for the tar ponds and coke ovens site, but it may be early in 2006 before any, actual remediation work begins.

An environmental assessment process must proceed the $400 million cleanup, and there are indications it may take at least a year starting this fall. "We're hoping that we can get it done within a year," said John Appleby, Atlantic Canada manager of environmental assessments for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

He said an assessment will only begin this fall if the governments have settled on a method to clean up the toxic sites, and then the province and Ottawa must reach an agreement on what type of environmental assessment will be implemented.

The two most likely assessments that would be under consideration is a comprehensive study and an evaluation by a review panel.

Of the environmental assessments conducted across the country 99 per cent are either screenings or comprehensive studies.

These types of assessments fall under the "self-directed" category given that the responsible authority is required to ensure that the assessment is carried out in compliance with the act, and doesn't require the federal minister of the environment's involvement.

Residents will be heard, says CEAA official

Appleby said a review panel study into the remediation project would only be "triggered" if there are any unknown impacts involved in the cleanup, or public concern about health and residents' proximity to the cleanup area.

"Our only possible panel trigger right now would be public concern, and until we've evaluated and quantified public concern, we can't rule that assessment track in necessarily. We haven't ruled it out either"

Under an independent panel of experts they would hear impact statements from residents and examine the option chosen for the cleanup, and make recommendations on the overall environmental acceptability of the project.

He said interviews with residents will have a large say in whether a full panel review will go ahead.

The Sierra Club of Canada is promoting a panel review, saying it should be the only option on the table. "If Canada's worst hazardous waste site doesn't warrant a full paneI review, then no project warrants a full panel review," said Bruno Marcocchio, the group's conservation campaign director.

"We hope that they'll be sensitive and that at minimum a full panel review will be convened that will let us look at the up and down sides of incineration and bring forward some of the alternatives that we feel are safe, effective, cost-effective, and seem to mirror the commitment the (Prime Minister Paul) Martin government has given us to clean technologies."

Marcocchio said a panel review would take as little as six months to complete. However, Appleby disputes that statement.

"I've never seen one take place that quickly " said Appleby "(Marcocchio) may be right, but I suspect it would take a bit longer in this case. Six months is very fast for a panel review."

An option, or combination of options, to destroy the 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge have yet to be determined. Some of those options include digging up the tar ponds heaviest contamination, burning it, and burying other portions of the two sites with slag or cement.

Appleby said Wednesday's announcement signals the beginning of the cleanup, but money for an environmental assessment process hasn't been divvied out yet.

"We have decisions which need to be made. By far and away it's not in our interest or anyone else's interest to slow this thing down through bureaucracy, complicated or overly lengthy environmental assessment processes."