Announcement of federal money for tar ponds cleanup welcomed

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post - Front Page
Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2004

A shadow of doubt cast over Ottawa's commitment to clean up Canada's worst toxic waste site dissolved Monday with the announcement of a $50 million fund tackling special remediation projects, notably the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site.

Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson delivered the throne speech that mentioned the fund, said to be an extension of a $3.5 billion program to be made available over the next 10 years for cleaning up contaminated sites it's responsible for.

"This was the nail-biter I've had for the past three years," said Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking, who admits he was losing hope. "I didn't have a good feeling the past few months." Eyking said he was informed by Environment Minister David Anderson Saturday, that Sydney would be singled out during the speech.

"(Minister Anderson) just recognized the work I've been doing over the past three years and how I've brought it to the forefront and convinced my colleagues in Atlantic Canada and the Ontario caucus that this was the issue," said Eyking. "This is a big step - money has been committed."

Dan Fraser, chair of the Joint Action Group, said Cape Breton residents should be pleased as well as all Nova Scotians. "For those of us in JAG, we were led to believe that this was going to happen all along," he said. "(Governments) always indicated that if JAG did its thing, the money would be coming."

In May, members of the community driven process unanimously approved a motion to remove and destroy contaminated waste from the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites. The motion was created from a community consultation process that involved 1,754 Cape Breton Regional Municipality residents. They were asked to respond to a workbook outlining technologies available.

During that process it was learned that co-burning the toxic sludge at a power plant or cement kiln was cited as the community 's favourite method of destruction and pretreating the contaminated waste before it's destroyed was also desirable.

Fraser said he's now waiting to hear what type of remediation the federal and provincial governments will pay for. "Then the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency should get on with its assessment of that project right away so that the major cleanup can start," said Fraser. How long that takes depends on how far along governments are in defining the project, he added. "My understanding is that they have done some work toward identitying what they're willing to fund."

Bruno Marcocchio, conservation campaigner for the Sierra Club of Canada, said he welcomes the news that money has been committed. However, he hopes the prime minister will consider "safe and effective alternatives that the JAG process completely overlooked," he said.

Specifically, Marcocchio wants Ottawa to ponder thermal desorption hydrogen reduction- a two-step process that turns pollutants into a gas and then a liquid to dramatically reduce its volume. That concentrated waste is then placed in a hydrogen reduction system that reduces the compounds leaving methane gas and salty water as its byproducts. The gas is then collected and reused to heat the next batch of contaminated waste, he said.

John Nash, president of the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce, said a financial commitment is what the business community was hoping to hear after meeting in January with Geoff Regan, Nova Scotia's representative in the federal cabinet. "It's really goad for our area," said Nash. "Now we just need the provincial portion in place to proceed."

The provincial government has said that it's hoping for a cost-share arrangement with the province's contribution at 30 per cent and the federal government's contribution at 70 per cent. The provincial government has socked away $316 million to remediate Sysco properties, the tar ponds and the coke ovens sites.

Cliff Murphy, president of the Cape Breton Island Building and Construction Trades Council, said he's waited a long time to hear such a commitment from the federal government. "It's wonderful news," said Murphy, who was a JAG member in 1995. "It's going create jobs when the work is going on and there'll be spinoff jobs as well."

He said the result will be an entirely new environment that will attract industry and people to the island. "Finally, we won't have that albatross around our necks."