PROGRESS 2006 - Community View

Sydney Tar Ponds Agency committed to cleanup project

The cleanup presents a unique opportunity

By Frank Potter
Cape Breton Post
Wed., April 26, 2005

Cape Bretoners are known for being resourceful, hard working, and able to face adversity head on. Our rich industrial and cultural history testifies to these traits. They are serving us well as we make the transition from company town to an economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurship.

It's an exciting time for Cape Breton. New investment, new industry, new construction, and a focus on sustainable growth are reinvigorating our economy. That being said, we still have a few challenges to get out of the way.

One legacy of our industrial past is the tar ponds and the coke ovens sites. Years of debate about the best way to clean up these sites has fostered a misleadingly negative image of the community.

Where some see this only as a challenge, we see an opportunity to close this chapter of our history in a positive and forward-looking manner. As Albert Einstein once said, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

I believe the $400 million cleanup of the tar ponds and coke ovens represents much more than a chance to fix a degraded environment. Rather, the cleanup presents a unique opportunity for our community to come together and develop a vision for the future of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. How many towns or cities get a chance to reshape and redevelop several hundred acres right in the heart of town?

The work created by the cleanup will enhance our already transforming Cape Breton economy through job creation, skills development, and knowledge transfer. Furthermore, it will build our capacity to export newfound skills in the environmental industry.

The magnitude of the project should not be overlooked. The investment by the federal government and the province of Nova Scotia makes it one of the largest capital projects in Cape Breton's history. An investment on this scale has the potential to create long lasting change in our community.

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has undergone a significant amount of change in the past year. We have increased in size from five employees to 20. For the first time in its history all the employees live and work in Cape Breton. They live in your neighbourhood, their children go to local schools and play on local sports teams. These dedicated employees have taken full responsibility to ensure that the health and safety of everyone in Cape Breton will be protected as we move forward with our cleanup plans.

Our mission is straightforward: the agency is committed to cleaning up the tar ponds and coke ovens in a manner that is both safe and effective, and that provides maximum benefit to the local economy.

The most important part of our job is to clean up the site. But if we don't foster local benefits while doing so, we will have missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create lasting change.

With that in mind, the agency has developed several additional objectives:

Maximizing employment opportunities for Cape Bretoners.

Maximizing opportunities for Cape Bretoners to acquire new skills.

Maximizing opportunities for companies to acquire new capabilities.

Facilitating the partnerships between local and national or international companies.

Ensuring that the cleaned up sites can be used in a manner that will contribute to the region's economy.

Enabling research opportunities.

Making the CBRM a more attractive place to live, work, visit and invest.

This past fall, a delegation that included STPA staff, CLC members and representatives of the CBRM council visited a number of sites in the U.S. to better understand how they dealt with cleaning up large contaminated sites. The trip was an eye opening experience for all of us and we gained many valuable insights.

We saw that the cleanup of the tar ponds and coke ovens is not unique and the methods being proposed are well tested and proven. We also saw how small our site is compared to those that we visited. But I think the most important lesson learned relates to how the projects really took hold once the community looked past the challenges and began to talk about the opportunities associated with future land use.

That's where being resourceful, hard working, and ready to face adversity will stand us in good stead. It's time to image what Sydney can be.

(Frank Potter is acting CEO of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.)