Sue governments if cleanup stalls

Letter to the editor from Robert Barrie
Cape Breton Post
Monday, Jan. 12, 2004

Isn't it time the residents of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality stood up together, as one unified group, and hired legal assistance to force the hand of government on the tar ponds cleanup?

The headline in the Jan. 6 edition of the Cape Breton Post (No Promises to Clean Up Tar Ponds) angers me greatly. As a news reporter with CJCB at the time, I was there in 1996 when Ottawa announced that help was on its way that a solution was going to be found, and that the community would have great involvement in the cleanup process.

I remember very well the then environment minister, Sergio Marchi, taking all of us down to the tar ponds on that warm August morning, the stench of the ponds firmly planted in everyone's nostrils (and, indeed, everyone's mind).

I thought at the time that, surely with the federal minister of environment physically standing right in the middle of the problem, Ottawa was going to be serious in making a true financial and psychological commitment to cleaning up this mess. I was there also when Marchi lead us to the Delta Hotel to announce the formation of the Joint Action Group (JAG) on the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds, which was supposed to give us all a feeling of belonging to a future solution.

Well, that time has come and gone -- almost eight years, to be exact -- and we still have no cleanup, let alone any great ideas to actually make this toxic dump safe.

How about this idea, then? If Ottawa is still sitting on the fence (as it appears to be doing, according to the comments of Fisheries and Oceans Minister Geoff Regan), then Mayor John Morgan and the members of the Cape Breton regional council should sue both senior levels of government for their inaction on the tar ponds.

Why not put together a lawsuit in co-operation with the residents of the whole municipality which would force Ottawa and Halifax either to clean up the mess or to provide the money to do the job properly ourselves?

CBRM residents who consider this a "Sydney problem" shouldn't fool themselves. Remember the days of the yellow-orange smoke billowing from Sydney Steel's stacks. Where do you think this stuff landed, on the moon?

No, some of it ended up in Pottle Lake, the water supply for much of the Northside.

Due to our continually prevailing northeast and northwest winds, I dare say a lot more ended up in the water supplies of Glace Bay Dominion, New Waterford and other surrounding communities.

All of us have a stake in this. Our political and business leaders must know and understand that part of the reason we've been unable to attract outside companies is the tar ponds. That is undeniable. Until we clean up the mess, there will be no great economic renewal, regardless of how many elected officials tell you otherwise. It would have happened by now if they were right.

We've got a great workforce, relatively cheap labour and even cheaper land and taxation in relation to larger cities, and we still can't get the economic ball rolling. Gee, do you think it could be because we live in the middle of "Canada's worst toxic waste site"? Of course it could!

I'll have to duck for cover now because the bleeding hearts and timid business leaders will accuse me of trying to put a black mark on the area, of scaring away potential investors. Open your eyes. there are very few opportunities because of the tar ponds.

Clean up the tar ponds now and then just sit back and watch how fast economic renewal begins in this great island.

Robert Barrie
Moffatt Ave., Sydney Mines