Eyking-led group meets with environment minister

By T.J. Colello
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Jan. 13, 2005

Having the tar ponds cleanup begin without delay was the message sent by a Cape Breton delegation led by Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking during a meeting with federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion in Ottawa, Wednesday.

Eyking was joined in the discussion by Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce president Bruce Meloney, chamber vice-presiden RobertMcCharles and JCI Cape Breton president Keith MacDonald.

The contingent showed the minister a video presentation with speakers from home, which included municipal councillors and people in the community. "The minister was very in tune with their requests and left us with the impression that he was going to do everything he could to speed up the process and not let it get dragged out," said Eyking, in an interview from Ottawa.

The group also met with Robert Connelly, president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, that will review a project description now being completed by the provincial government. Once the description is forwarded, the agency recommends how the information will be assessed.

A comprehensive study and a full panel review are the two methods of assessment under consideration. The comprehensive study is led and controlled by government, while a full panel review is led and controlled by an independent group of experts appointed by the federal environment minister.

Eyking said he was not in favour of a full panel approach because of the history behind it, saying it has created long delays in the past. "For me personally, I'd like to see it done as fast as possible," he said. "I have some concerns with full panel, but I'm not saying it's totally wrong. But as fast as possible this is done, we can get on with the cleanup with the health of the community in mind."

During an editorial board meeting with the Cape Breton Post in November, Scott Brison, the minister overseeing the cleanup, said that from the time the agency makes its recommendation, a full panel review should take up to 20 months.

Brison, who serves as the minister of public works and Government Services Canada, based that conclusion on reviews of projects completed in the past.

Meloney said a full panel review could delay the cleanup process for up to four years, and believes people want the shorter comprehensive review. " I believe Minister Dion clearly got the message from us," he said. "The people in Cape Breton just want to get on with it and clean it up. "I think he was quite impressed and that he understood our frustration at home."

Eyking estimated a decision on what method would be used could be made in the next couple of months.