Status of tar ponds suit to be decided

Cape Breton Post
By Chris Shannon
Wed., Apr. 7, 2010

Sydney – Legal arguments to have a proposed suit against the federal and provincial governments declared a class action due to health issues related to the legacy of the tarponds and coke ovens will be heard in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in June.

The proposed class-action suit would bring more than 400 claimants under one umbrella for a single trail that could last for an entire year, said Ray Wagner of Wagners Law Firm, one of the two firms representing the residents. "If you deal within the class definition, then you would have your case resolved all at the same time," Wagner said from his Halifax office, Tuesday. "Instead of having 400 trails, we would have one trail on the issues that were common to all the class members."

Wagner will attempt to have the class action certification hearing held at Supreme Court in Sydney. As it stands now the hearing is expected to be held in Halifax from June 21 to July 2- a nine-day period that Wagner feels is much too long considering most arguments of this nature take between two to three days. "It’s most relevant to Sydney, of course. To have it down here (in Halifax) would be to miss an opportunity to be able for those in Sydney to witness what’s going on," he said.

The claim was files on behalf of people who live or lived in the neighbourhoods immediately surrounding the former Sydney steel plant, former coke ovens operations, and tarponds. Nearly a century of steelmaking in the area produced a toxic legacy that is now the subject of a multi-million –dollar remediation effect.

The suit seeks compensation for property damage, funds to establish a medical mechanism to monitor the risks posed by the toxic emissions and compensation for years of exposure to toxic pollution.

The protracted legal case has gone on for nearly seven years, and Wagner said much of the difficulty has surrounded discovery hearings.

The class-action certification hearing had been scheduled to begin April 12, but the filing of an additional affidavit led to the defence asking for an adjournment to review the document before it continue its cross-examination of a witness in the discovery process.