Important lessons from other clean-up projects

Letter by Alastair Macleod
Cape Breton Post
Sat., Nov. 5, 2005

Recently, I toured several U.S. industrial clean-up sites as part of a team comprising tarponds' clean-up officials, and representatives of departments of health, environment, public works and government services, regional hospital, and regional council. At each site we were warmly received by federal, state and municipal officials. We also met contractors and members of citizens' groups.

These meetings gave us an opportunity to see similarities and differences between their cleanups and Sydney's.

The projects we visited in Washington State, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts were well-established. At each site, we were impressed by the creative way the community turned a major environmental problem into an opportunity for economic development.

For example, in Tacoma on the Pacific Coast, derelict waterfront polluted by 100 years of industrial waste has been transformed into condominiums, office buildings, boat marinas, and an art gallery, all for citizens to enjoy As a result, tax income for the municipality soared.

We saw new technology bonded onto traditional methods.

At a water depth of 35 feet in Tacoma's harbour, the arm of a conventional dredge was equipped with a sensor, which permitted the operator to watch a computer screen in his cab and place the dredge-bucket on the polluted harbour bottom with pinpoint accuracy. The benefit was a 100,000-ton reduction in over-dredging, with both cost-savings and an opportunity to market this innovation to other dredging projects.

In a Wisconsin river, which was polluted with 7,000,000 tons of PCB material (compared to 45,000 tons in Sydney), a dredging schedule was devised to avoid interference with migratory fish.

Also, the Wisconsin cleanup team built an observation deck which overlooked the pro-ject and was accessible to the public. Displays explain the details of what is being done and a staff person is employed to answer queries from citizens and visitors. Nearby residents take an active interest in how this cleanup is being accomplished and appreciate the fact that their environment is being enhanced.

The harbour cleanup in New Bedford, on the Atlantic coast, faces PCB levels 1,000 times higher than that of Sydney. It is a very expensive project already well-underway but will continue for many more years before completion. Today, after initial years of conflict, it features a high level of co-operation among federal, state, and municipal officials, community groups, citizens and local businesses impacted by the cleanup.

An example of this type of co-operation was that federal officials agreed to fund a rail-link to the harbour to take away the contaminated material dredged from the harbour. This was an important goal of New Bedford's long-term mayor. On completion of the cleanup, the rail-link will remain as a permanent addition to New Bedford's transport system.In summary, we found that the communities we visited are dealing successfully with sites involving higher levels of pollution than we face in Sydney. Co-operation among the clean-up partners is crucial. By envisioning economic opportunities, at the outset, industrial cleanups can be transformed into valuable community assets.

(Alastair MacLeod is chair of the Citizens'Liaison Committee)