Clarke issues feds ultimatum in cleanup of tar ponds

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Fri., Mar. 26, 2004

SYDNEY - Ottawa has until the next federal election to say how it plans to share the cost of cleaning up Canada’s worst toxic waste site or the provincial government may go it alone, says a Cape Breton MLA.

"Our strong preference is to partner with the federal government in a joint cleanup," said MLA Cecil Clarke. "However, we have not ruled out the option of proceeding on our own for the next phase if we are unable to agree on a cost-sharing arrangement in the near future."

Clarke made the comments during a hastily called news conference in Sydney, Thursday.

During the session, he said the province has set aside up to $120 million for the remediation of the contaminated sites – enough to pay for about 30 per cent of the expected cost. He’s encouraging Ottawa to come up with the remaining 70 per cent.

The federal government owns major portions of both the tar ponds and coke ovens, said Clarke, Nova Scotia’s energy minister. "Second, and even more important, 85 per cent of the PCB material – the most serious contaminant on the site – rests in the federal portion of the tar ponds," he continued. "Third, the worst pocket of contamination on the coke ovens – a 25,000 tonne underground deposit known as the tar cell – was created when the Government of Canada, through the Cape Breton Development Corp., owned the coke ovens between 1968 and 1973."

As well, the provincial, federal and municipal governments’ cost-share agreement that paid for $71 million worth of work at the sites so far, has set a precedent for future agreements, said Clarke.

Mark Eyking, MP for Sydney-Victoria, said final negotiations between the two governments are continuing behind closed doors and he expects the two sides will come to an agreement in about two months. "I don’t think holding a gun to somebody’s head is going to get it any quicker," said Eyking. "We want to be there. I definitely don’t want the province to do it alone because they couldn’t do the job right with that kind of money. You can’t do this project for under $200-300 million."

Eyking said it’s important for heads to remain cool – especially since both governments have committed significant amounts of money to pay for the remediation.

Clarke said the province is not going to allow the negotiations to drag on forever. "Getting this project underway will represent the dawn of a new era – not simply for the tar ponds and coke ovens – but for the entire area."

He said the most immediate impact will be felt by the community’s engineering and construction industries with the creation of more than 2,700 person-years of employment over the next decade.

"But as important as these jobs are, this project represents more than a 10-year employment venture," said Clarke. "It represents an unprecedented opportunity for Sydney to realize our full potential as one of Canada’s greatest places to live, work, raise a family, visit and invest."