JAG process brought benefits to community

Once the process got rolling, progress toward cleanup was rapid

Letter to the editor from Dan Fraser
Cape Breton Post
Saturday, Jan. 31, 2004

It is not unexpected that Bruno Marcocchio continues to be unwilling to acknowledge that the Joint Action Group or any other progressive organization in our community has accomplished so much while working co-operatively and within its official mandate (After Seven Years and $68 Million, Cleanup Stillborn, Letters, Jan. 24).

As a direct result of input from knowledgeable and dedicated citizens who took part in the JAG process, the characteristics of the contamination at and around the tar ponds and coke ovens sites are now well understood. The reports are available for all to read and use. The old stacks, buildings, coal, coke and sulphur piles, and tonnes of other debris, are now gone from the coke ovens site. The safe removal of the Domtar tank is well underway and that structure will soon disappear.

Of equal significance is the financial and technical support provided to Cape Breton Regional Municipality as a direct result of the JAG process, which has benefited all residents. I refer to the construction of the interceptor sewer and the additional funds provided through JAG's funding partners for the coming construction of the sewage treatment plant at Battery Point. In addition, CBRM will benefit from the recently announced infrastructure funds to construct the Byng Avenue interceptor sewer, which will tie into the JAG-initiated interceptor sewer.

Such funding from the provincial and federal infrastructure program was made possible only because of the work carried out by JAG in preparation for a major cleanup.

The capping of the old landfill site has saved CBRM millions it would have been forced to secure for such a project if not for the work of insightful members of JAG who insisted the Job be included in the cleanup. An emergency response vehicle, equipment and training requested by JAG to respond to an emergency on the sites is now the property of CBRM and benefits all of Cape Breton.

The air monitoring project, the technology demonstration project, the geographic information system, various health studies and countless other projects have added to the preparation of the sites for a major cleanup. At the same time, all activities under JAG provided employment for many involved in the various projects. Hotels, food and beverage providers, printing companies, airlines and a host of other companies also benefited during the JAG process.

The loss of JAG has meant lost opportunities for local unemployed construction and trades people; the members of JAG were working with government to start the process of brook diversion and cofferdam construction. These are but a few of the projects for which JAG asked governments to provide interim funding while they sort out the funding formula for the major cleanup.

Could it be that some of the downward trend in employment statistics is due to the JAG partnership and funding not being continued during this time when governments are determining how to proceed?

Mr. Marcocchio notes that little is known about government intentions and the process underway at this time. That, of course, goes directly to the heart of the reason JAG was so important to our community.

JAG was a community government partnership. With the JAG process, senior government officials came to our community on a monthly basis and provided updates, listened to citizens, took away information and requests, and then turned these into actions. Rarely do senior government officials come to Sydney these days to discuss the tar ponds and coke ovens with citizens. When they do, it is for their agenda and on their schedule. All information is now in the hands of government representatives; as it was before JAG. Mr. Marcocchio can take considerable credit for minimizing citizen involvement. As a representative of the Sierra Club of Canada, he worked closely with Mayor John Morgan to help put an end to the four-party partnership and citizen involvement under the JAG process.

Most of the visible progress under the JAG process occurred from 2000 to 2003: this is the time after the new process and the project participants had gone through extensive discussions and had learned to work as a team. In this period, the tar ponds and coke ovens cleanup progressed faster than other large projects in North America.

With pressure from the community, an aggressive schedule was set in March 2001 and was on track up to and including the recommendation to governments by JAG in May 2003. That same schedule would have seen a government decision on a cleanup made by now, and the environmental assessment of the defined project would now be underway. Construction on actual cleanup was scheduled to start one year from now.

Governments have decided to start a new community liaison process with less public involvement. Let's see how the schedule progresses now that it is subject to government priorities and no longer subject to community priorities.

Mr. Marcocchio believes there is only one cleanup method out there capable of doing the job. He will not accept that JAG presented 10 proven and viable cleanup options to our community and that citizens have spoken their wishes for a cleanup. Mr. Marcocchio and members of the Sierra Club of Canada refused to complete a workbook where their wishes could have been stated and considered as governments now determine what processes they are prepared to fund.

Mr. Marcocchio continues to support a form of incineration by stating that thermal desorption and hydrogen reduction are safe and cost effective, an "elegant" way to clean up PAHs and PCBs. The report on the 10 technologies presented to JAG included this process. Regrettably, this "elegant" process is slow and expensive, produces emissions, and is considered experimental on the scale of the tar ponds and coke ovens. It is re commended as a viable option for the smaller part of the waste that will be treated as PCB material.

The JAG process has in fact pointed out what technologies are preferred by citizens of our community while providing information on technologies that are capable of carrying out a cleanup in a reasonable time and at reasonable cost. That was the mandate of JAG, and government now has those recommendations.

Dan Fraser is the chair of the Joint Action Group.Though government support to JAG ended in Septembey JAG is registered under the Nova Scotia Societies Act and citizen members continue to meet in the interests of seeing a major cleanup.