Dion gets bird's-eye view of tar ponds site

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Mon., Feb. 21, 2005

Canada's Minister of the Environment got a bird's-eye view of Cape Breton's beauty and its beast during a visit to the area Saturday.

Stephane Dion hopped in a helicopter at Sydney's airport and flew about 1,000 feet above the urban area to get a visual grasp of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites. "To see this by my eyes was important," said Dion, who is also MP for Saint-Laurent Cartiervillein Quebec. "It's a bay like the others. If I was not briefed, I would not have noticed it was the tar ponds. The magnitude - it's huge."

As minister, Dion is charged with deciding if the ehvironmental assessment of cleanup plans for the toxic sites will be conducted as a comprehensive study or as a full panel review. Both assessments are said to take the same amount of time to complete. However, a comprehensive review is led by government and a full panel review is carried out by an independent body.

Currently, the $400-million cleanup is on course for the government-led comprehensive study. Dion said Saturday that it's difficult to know what would trigger a full panel review. "Maybe the level of uncertainty, or the level of need to consult the people, "he said. " I cannot comment to say which one."

Government is now collecting public opinion on a scoping document that outlines possible environmental and health impacts relating to the project's plans. They will continue to collect that feedback until March 9.

At that point, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Environment Canada and Transport Canada will review the comments. Within 30 to 60 days, their recommendation will be forwarded to the environment minister for his consideration. "I want the ball in my (court)," he said.

Experts will then review the departments'recommendation before Dion makes his final decision. Although'the minister declined to say when his final decision will be ready, he did say it would be made as "short as possible."

Dion added that his decision will be made "with a lot of care for the pbople and for their health." The biggest challenge with this cleanup project is the proximity of Sydney residents, he added. "It's not so easy to move the people," he said. "Not an easy decision in a democracy."

In the last federal budget, government set aside $500 million for special remediation projects to get underway across Canada within the next 10 years. "Most of it will be for this tar ponds, " said Dion. Sydney resident Ron Marman got a few minutes alone with the minister to express his concerns about plans to set up an incinerator across from his home Victoria Junction Wash Plant--located along the Sydney-Glace Bay Highway, is selected as the preferred spot for burning tar ponds and coke oven sludge contaminated with PCBs.

Marman said he's lived next to the wash plant his entire life and is concerned about the possibility of harmful emissions. He said that although he doesn't want the incinerator as a neighbour, he doesn't believe anybody wants one in their back yard.

"There are other ways of cleaning it up," he said. "I think the Sierra Club (of Canada) - their ideas - have to be at least listened to." The national environmental advocacy group is recommending non-incineration technology

Marman was told that other cleanup methods will be considered during the environmental assessment process.

Helicopter circled site three times

"I know the minister is concerned," said Marman.

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking, who accompanied Dion during the helicopter ride, said it was important for the minister to see that the toxic sites are located in the centre of Sydney. It was also significant that he viewed work completed to date, like the capping of the former landfill. "(The helicopter) circled the site three times," said Eyking. "There was so much (Dion) wanted to look at."

To submit comments about the cleanup plans, e-mail at tarponds@pwgsc.gc.ca, send a letter to Public Works and Government Services Canada, PO Box 1280, Station A, Sydney; NS, B1P 6J9, or telephone (902)564-2534, or by fax at (902)564-2597.

The scoping document and project descriptlon are available for public review at the McConnell Library in Sydney, University College of Cape Breton library, and the Sydney Tar Ponds Community Office on Charlotte Street. The scoping document is available at www.pwgsc.gc.ca and the project description is available at www.tarpondscleanup.ca.