Harbour protection a hot topic on Day 4

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., May 4, 2006

Sydney - Discourse became a bit heated at Wednesday's panel hearing when questions turned to contaminated sediment present in Sydney harbour and concern that contamination levels will climb during the cleanup, bringing more harm to already burdened marine life.

The start of Sydney's cleanup efforts began in the 1980s when scientists confirmed that lobster crawling along the harbour's bottom were loaded with contaminants migrating from the tar ponds. The lobster fishery was closed and the first cleanup effort got underway. The plan was to suck tar pond sludge through a pipeline to an incinerator for disposal. The project failed, which brings us to the current cleanup plan.

Of particular concern to scientists at Natural Resources Canada is the need for protective measures to prevent more contaminants from travelling to the harbour when construction begins.

It's known that a barrier included in cleanup plans will be constructed at the mouth of Muggah Creek from the tip of Battery Point to the Sysco Piers - the most northern part of the ponds. It's designed to control aroused sediment now resting in the tar ponds from migrating to the harbour.

The original plan was to build a coffer dam, but changes were needed to accommodate a history of flooding along Brookland and Townsend streets. The modifications include a 50-metre gap. Although the flooding is addressed from an engineering perspective, Natural Resources Canada is concerned that the opening also allows contaminants to move from the ponds to the harbour.

Michael Parsons, research scientist with the federal department, said sediment will be stirred during work on the site, especially when reinforcement structures are installed in the ponds.

Don Shosky, an expert for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said silk screens anchored to the bottom of the ocean have shown to have a 90 per cent capture rate and work well when used properly. As well, turbidity monitors will alert workers when water gets too dirty.
"Although it's not directly related to (contamination) levels," said Shosky, "they are used routinely and successfully in a lot of marine environments."

Parsons recommended both short-term and long-term monitoring of the harbour to provide assurances the harbour won't be harmed during the work.

Future site use continued to be an issue pursued by panel members during presentations by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Chairperson Lesley Griffiths asked representatives if they are concerned about the viability of the sites once they are capped. "We're addressing that as we move forward," said Ken Swain, director of the project with the public works department. Swain added that the department consulted with communities in the United States that had similar cleanups. Those communities encouraged the department to develop a clear vision for future use to ensure positive outcomes.

Since then, the department engaged community leaders including the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Sydney Airport Authority, Port Authority, and Cape Breton University.

Swain told Griffiths that he does have some concern about the viability of the tar pond site, which may be better suited to parkland space. The coke ovens may be a better match for light-industrial development, he added.

The federal department also told panel members that the $400 million tossed about by media and other sources as a project estimate, is the funding level both government levels agreed to spend on "all" project costs, including four preventative projects now underway.

"What is also important to understand, however, is that these works - including the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency's project management costs and the Independent Engineers' costs - account for approximately $72.5 million dollars of agreed upon funding," said Swain. "So I feel its important to point out that we now have approximately $327.5 million available for the project currently being assessed by the panel, and not the $400 million, as is commonly quoted in the media and elsewhere, for the entire initiative."

It was also noted that estimates for the project as currently being assessed, used 2004 dollars and weren't indexed for inflation rates.


Show us the money. . .

The federal government's commitment to the cleanup of Sydney's tar ponds and coke oven sites was the subject of concern during Wednesday's hearing in Sydney. The Cape Breton Post interviewed Ken Swain, director of the project for Public Works and Government Services Canada, to identify federal funding procedures needed to secure funding for the project. A Memorandum of Agreement signed by provincial and federal governments allocates up to $400 million to the total project, and about $72.5 million is set aside for preventative works, implementation of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, and the environmental assessment process.

Q: Cape Breton Post: During (Wednesday's) hearing, you said that funding should be available subject to changes within the panel's recommendations. What does that mean for this community?

A: "Ken Swain: The funding is there. It's been committed in the Memorandum of Agreement. The federal government has committed to fund up to $280 million of project expenditures. Our understanding is that the funding has been allocated to this project. What we need to do is determine if there are any modifications to the project which would perhaps fit in that funding envelope. If there is significant modification, that indicates that not all that funding is required, or in fact more funding is required, then we'll have to take the necessary steps to try and secure that.

Q: Cape Breton Post: What could lead us into an area where government may not support the project? Will it be a dollar amount or something else?

A: Ken Swain: The government supports the initiative. There's no doubt about that. As laid out in the Memorandum of Agreement, and the project as briefly described in the (agreement), which is more extensively described in the project description evaluated in this process, fits what the funding has been defined for. Should the recommendations of the panel require an adjustment to that funding, an adjustment to the project, then we'll have to consider that as we move forward. It's going to require cabinet approval anyway. According to federal legislation, we're required to go back to cabinet, so that cabinet is satisfied with our response to the panel recommendations. We'll start those deliberations and negotiations and analysis of the panel report as soon as we receive it. In fact, we've already taken steps to develop a framework for the process and a decision-making model is proceeding.

Q: Cape Breton Post: How much time will that take?

A: Ken Swain: We hope to be in a position to move forward with recommendations to secure a cabinet decision in the fall. Concurrent with that, we'll be taking steps to secure Treasury Board funding. We hope to have all that done by March, 2007.

Q: Cape Breton Post: Is there concern about the change in government?

A: Ken Swain: We have none at this point. No.

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

Picture not available for caption below:
Sydney tar ponds employees Cecil Burke and Gordie Skinner keep watch as an excavator removes samples of sludge from the cooling pond at the tar ponds site. The samples are being shipped to 11 bidders who have picked up bidding packages for the cooling pond cleanup, for testing to determine the precise mixture they would use in stabilizing the sediments. Bidding is limited to companies and consortia with majority aboriginal ownership.