Cleanup Relaunched

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post Front page
Thurs., May 13, 2004

SYDNEY - After more than two decades of broken promises, the federal and provincial governments pledged $400 million, Wednesday, to clean up Canada’s worst toxic waste site.

"The people of Sydney have waited too long for a solution," said Premier John Hamm, during the press conference at the Victoria Park Armouries, a stone’s throw away from the famed Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens. "It will not be easy for government to regain the confidence lost," said the premier, who along with federal Environment Minister David Anderson and Public Works Minister Stephen Owen, signed a memorandum of agreement detailing their governments roles in the cleanup over the next 10 years.

The federal government is funding the lion’s share of the project with a promise of no more than $280 million while the province promises no more than $120 million. "Today is a great day for Sydney, a great day for Cape Breton, and a great day for all Nova Scotians," cooed Hamm, adding the province now has a deal to ensure the tar ponds and coke ovens sites are finally cleaned up.

After a century of steelmaking, the tar ponds and coke ovens sites are known to contain nearly every form of carcinogen and for decades have been the subject of political promises, studies and failed remediation efforts, including incineration – but the 700,000 tonnes of toxic sludge in the ponds proved too gooy to flow through the pipeline to the incinerator’s burner.

Although funding from governments was clear, there remained questions after Wednesday’s briefing and press conference about just how the remediation will proceed.

At the briefing, it was explained that some of the most harmful contaminants would be destroyed by a mobile incinerator brought on site. During the press conference, Owen said the federal government is considering off-site incineration. The minister then said the location has yet to be determined. "It would be inadequate at this stage to define the route the process is going to take," Owen told the assembled 500 that included students, business and labour leaders, volunteers, environmental groups, a slew of politicians and other officials.

The minister said options being given serious consideration include treating the pond contaminants and then capping the location in a manner similar to the old Sydney landfill. The plan also includes provisions for long-term monitoring of air and water quality as well as continued maintenance at the site.

The coke oven contaminants that are spread over 72-hectares will also require bioremediation in the form of land-farming. And, a hefty layer of clean soil will cap parts of the site. "The tar ponds and coke ovens will soon be nothing but a memory," said Mark Eyking, Sydney-Victoria MP. The cleanup plan will heal the island’s industrial wounds and will also serve as a shot in the arm for the community, he said.

Environment Minister David Anderson said the funding commitment is a direct result of the community’s commitment, its collective action and its will. "We move from a past where environmental degradation was considered part of the industrial process, to something a great deal better," he said.

Minister singles out JAG's effort in cleanup process

Anderson singled out the Joint Action Group's seven-year effort to present community- endorsed solutions to clean up the sites. "JAG did a tremendous job," he said.

Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan, Nova Scotia's federal representative in cabinet, said now that the province's most pressing environmental priority is officially underway, the community can focus more on its tourism, business and its natural resources. "I know Cape Bretoners have the iron will to make it happen," added Regan.

Work that will begin in the coming months includes the remediation of the cooling pond, the construction of a coffer dam at Battery Point and the rerouting of Coke Ovens Brook.

Members of a new community liaison committee will be announced in the summer and a project description should be finalized by government as well.

An implementing agency will be established by the provincial government in the fall.

An environmental assessment of the defined project is expected to get underway in the fall - a process expected to take up to a year to complete. Once the project is approved, tenders will be issued in 2005 and 2006 with contracts expected to be awarded in 2006.

The overall cleanup is expected to be finished in 2014.