Cleanup News A Big Break
Agreement on Muggah Creek will lift a psychological pall
The Issue: Announcement Coming Next Week
Cape Breton Post Editorial
Sat., May 8, 2004
Canadians have been assured over the years that the people
of Sydney were desperately awaiting the cleanup of the
Muggah Creek watershed. As proof, there would be TV
video from time to time showing angry people shouting.
But down at ground zero it wasn't always easy to say what if anything
the community at large was thinking about the tar ponds.
The subject became a kind of white noise, at the edge of consciousness,
as people got on with their lives. But it's become a psychological
weight too. One might pretty up the downtown and talk
about urban rebirth in the old steel city but there was this Thing
- this hideous, mocking embarrassment that seemed the very
emblem of collective paralysis.
Well, just as every Canadian now is allowed to root for the Calgary
Flames, the cleanup bandwagon is pulling into the station at
long last and everyone's welcome to pile aboard. All past disloyalty,
all loss of faith, all turning away in disgust, is forgiven.
News of an agreement between federal and provincial governments
on a cleanup costing $400 million and up is the biggest break
for Sydney in many years. It can't help but brighten the outlook in
the unofficial capital of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, a
change that will spill out beyond the boundaries of the former city.
There are bound to be conflicts and problems ahead, of course.
Officials have been tight-lipped about the choice of cleanup methods
but the guessing is the tar ponds solution will involve both
encapsulation and incineration - approaches that have been bitterly
attacked in the past. Governments have been stating a working estimate
of $400 million, which is in the ballpark of the high end package
favoured in the community consultation exercise last
spring. But the costs attached to that Cadillac set of preferences
were soon challenged as unrealistically low. Governments appear
to have aimed at some mid-range in the available cleanup options.
It's believed the project will avoid a full panel federal environmental
assessment that the Sierra Club has demanded, which
could have taken up to three years. We've yet to learn whether
there's anything planned to address the persistent calls for a relocation
offer to homeowners immediately outside the cleanup perimeter,
perhaps using the justification that the remediation
work itself will give rise to local public health and nuisance issues.
And the last time we heard from Membertou, the Mi'kmaq band
was feeling ignored and hinting at court action if it was not adequately
consulted on the cleanup.
These and other issues will generate further debate, ending in
hard feelings in some cases. But the news of a funding deal and
adoption of a general plan of attack will trigger broad support in
the community for the partners to proceed with all practical haste
and get this done. The projection of six years sounds like a welcome,
a bonus against the popular expectation that a cleanup would
take a decade if governments ever did get around to doing it.
Among the many criticisms of the Joint Action Group process,
which concluded a year ago with the submission of recommended
options, was Mayor John Morgan's charge that the whole cumbersome
edifice, including the several departmental bureaucracies linked to it,
lacked a political driving force to energize the
effort. Morgan's critique may have been opportunistic sniping
from the sidelines, when the regional municipality itself was a
formal and participating partner, but he did have a point.
It is essential that the big cleanup be launched with the management
structure and personnel to ensure that snags are overcome expeditiously,
that contractors deliver, and that the whole
complex undertaking stays on course and on schedule.