Tar ponds plan quizzed

Panel hearings continue today

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Mon., May 1, 2006

Sydney - A marathon of questions and answers will continue today as the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency defends its cleanup plans now under the microscope of an independent panel assessing any possible environmental impacts.

"We have listened to the community, we have assessed the risks of the various technologies and we have a good plan and we are confident it will make Sydney a better place," said Frank Potter, the agency's acting chief executive officer. "No cleanup solution will satisfy everyone, because even after 650 technical and scientific reports and 1,000 public meetings, we know that some people will never agree on a cleanup plan."

Panel members didn't necessarily disagree with the agency's cleanup proposals outlined in a 90-minute presentation on opening day Saturday. However, the three did ask some hard-hitting questions that challenged the agency's 16 supporting experts during the day-long hearing at the Victoria Park Armouries.

Lesley Griffiths, joint panel chair, concentrated her questions on whether or not the agency can walk away from the project once 25 years of monitoring have passed.

"After 25 years, the site will no longer present a problem," said Potter. Griffiths, unsatisfied, asked how that would be accomplished.

For several minutes, experts gave answers lacking the amount of certainty Griffiths wanted to hear. Finally, one expert took control. "With confidence, we do have the walk-away solution you're looking for," said Don Shosky, Earth Tech expert and member of the agency's consulting team. Caps proposed for both the tar ponds and coke oven sites use natural materials like clay, rocks and topsoil, he said. The containment system will remain and any remaining contaminants will be stabilized. Although, he said, some future maintenance may be necessary.

Panel member Louis LaPierre followed Griffiths' line of questions. He asked the team about the biological degradation process for PAHs and PCBs and if salt water could infiltrate the tar ponds encapsulation system, described as a low permeable solid monolith. LaPierre, also asked about the possibility that salt water would erode the monolith if the two met. "The reaction between cement and salt water; would it stand up?" asked LaPierre.

The team said that experts are currently reviewing potential impacts salt water may have on remediation plans for the sites.

LaPierre also asked the team to show if deep aquifers in the coke ovens site are connected to its contaminated and fractured bedrock. "It's an important (question)," noted LaPierre.

Shosky said the team will provide a profile of aquifers and bedrock at a future hearing. He also agreed to search for technologies that may be available to monitor the underside of the monolith.

Griffiths said she was surprised by one comment Potter made that there is no acceptable technology for removing contaminants in the bedrock. He said the contaminants would have to be managed over the long term. That rationale wasn't included in any of the agency's previous statements or follow-up comments, said Griffiths. "We will talk about alternatives and rationales for technologies is important," said Griffiths. "You put one forward today."

Panel member William Charles got into some specifics when the topic turned to transferring contaminated tar ponds sludge by rail to the Victoria Junction Wash Plant on Grade Lake Road in Sydney. "I'm interested in knowing where you're going to get the flat cars."

It was an answer the agency was unable to give. The agency also said it needed time to compare Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines for PAHs against site specific target levels adopted by the agency to determine safe levels for Sydney's cleanup.

Near the conclusion of the opening hearing, the panel was told that the caps, as currently designed, couldn't accommodate rooted trees. With just a thin layer of top soil, it could only handle grass and small shrubs.

Today's hearing will begin at 1 p.m. and continue until about 9 p.m.


Cleanup in a click
Web sites that provide information on the joint panel process and the remediation plan include:

Picture not available :
From left, Wilf Kaiser, Frank Potter, Gregory Gillis, Shawn Duncan, Brian Magee and John Walker are members of a team formed by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency to answer questions posed by members of a joint panel. The sessions will begin at 1 p.m. at the Victoria Park Armouries in Sydney.