Tar Ponds Cleanup Deal May Be Near

Steve MacInnis
Cape Breton Post
Friday, May 7, 2004

SYDNEY - An announcement that Cape Bretoners have waited decades for could come as early as next week in advance of an expected federal election call.

Speculation was rampant Thursday in Sydney, Halifax and Ottawa, that Prime Minister Paul Martin will come to the island Monday or Tuesday to announce the cleanup of the highly toxic Sydney tar ponds. "Let’s just say we have a 100-page deal and we’ve agreed on 99 pages," said MP Mark Eyking, during a telephone interview Thursday from Ottawa.

Eyking, who is among those leading the charge to have the site cleaned up, said money was not the issue but declined to specify the final topic that needed to be settled. "Both sides in these negotiations have worked well together and I would say we can expect something next week," said the Liberal member for Sydney-Victoria. "This is certainly the closest we’ve ever been to signing a deal."

Dan Fraser, the chair of the Joint Action Group, also said a deal was close at hand. "I do expect news next week on a cleanup," said Fraser. JAG, once comprised of representatives from all levels of government and the community, was mandated to assist the public in recommending a cleanup technology. JAG is now an organization of volunteers.

Earlier this week, federal and provincial bureaucrats met in Halifax to discuss the funding arrangement for the project which is expected to cost at least $400 million. "The funding arrangement is a far more important deal and it appears they have reached an agreement," said MLA Manning MacDonald, Liberal member for Cape Breton South, which includes a portion of the toxic site.

At the outset of the funding discussions, the province wanted to pay 30 per cent of the costs while the feds were aiming for a 50/50 split. MacDonald and Fraser both said Thursday they’ve heard nothing in terms of the technology that will be used to clean the site. Through its community consultative process, JAG presented 10 options for consideration ranging from encapsulation to burning to thermal desorption.

There is speculation that a final remediation option may use a combination of technologies. "This is one event that I certainly want to be there for," said MacDonald, adding a lot of people poured a lot of work into this project.