Future use of remediated sites key to students' presentation

Environmental club members also express concerns to review panel

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Sat., May 13, 2006

Sydney - When the city's first cleanup attempt failed, some presenters at Friday's panel hearings were just babies. Now young adults, they're looking to a future free of tar ponds talk and one filled with economic growth and opportunity.

With the support of 30 of their peers, representatives from Sydney Academy's Environmental Club presented their concerns as well as their hopes on how the remediated tar ponds and coke ovens sites will be utilized by their generation.

"Youth would like to see the land used to compliment possible uses of our harbour, not as a golf course or another baseball field," said John Patrick Fitzgerald, the club's president. "Some green space would be nice, but economic development is of greater significance. For a healthy community, youth feel we need jobs."

The group of young people happened upon a topic proving to be of significant importance to panel members during the hearings - how the two properties will be used once they're remediated.

Since 80 per cent of the coke ovens (175 acres) and all of the tar ponds (80 acres) will be capped if the current project proposal is approved, the strength of those caps and the weight they can support once in place are characteristics that could impact future development opportunities.

"Youth want to know what the land can and will be used for and if trees or buildings can be put on capped lands," said Fitzgerald.

The current plan is to construct caps capable of supporting green space or light commercial use.

Panel members have asked questions in the past and repeated them Friday about increasing the cap's strength so that heavier, more industrial developments can be explored.

During the hearing, panel member Louis LaPierre said that making changes now to improve strength would be cheaper than doing it later.

The Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said improving strength to suit future use would be an easy process.

"We'd have to take a look at the cost," said Frank Potter, the agency's acting chief executive officer. "And that's what we committed to during detailed design work. Any refinements will come out of that process."

Coupled with concerns about future use, panel members also asked students about their feelings surrounding the agency's plan to leave a majority of the contaminants in the ground.

Fitzgerald said 52 students from across Cape Breton participated in a symposium at the school in March. Generally, students said they support the cleanup as proposed, which includes incineration with strict monitoring programs.

"The fact that so much planning and research has been done regarding this project and the possible negative consequences, it provides comfort to youth," said Rachelle McGrath, the environmental club's vice-president.

However, during the symposium, many students reported concerns about issues like the development of a safety response plan if something goes wrong during the work and asked if government plans to help residents living near the project if their health or properties are negatively impacted.

First confirming the students didn't skip school to attend the session, panel member William Charles asked if those concerns were since addressed.

Fitzgerald confirmed the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency did provide students with answers to their concerns during the day-long symposium.

"There were so many technologies," said Fitzgerald. "We think they picked the best one."

The focus on future use continued Friday with presentations by Cape Breton Chapter of JCI, Sydney & Area Chamber of Commerce and Cape Breton Partnership.

The chamber said Sydney harbour is the community's greatest asset offering the greatest opportunity to the community and is considered a key infrastructure component for future economic growth. The combination of the remediation of the tar ponds, Devco properties, and Sysco properties provides a unique opportunity for the area, said chamber members.

That "corridor" provides about 3,000 acres of valuable, publicly owned lands that may be suitable for commercial or industrial development. The lands are also adjacent to principal port facilities and link four modes of transportation.

Keith MacDonald, JCI spokesperson, said members of its group recommends a legacy fund be developed. The fund would be leveraged to attract new investment, new industry, new research, and new arts and culture opportunities associated with land end use and to compliment a new vision for the community.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the community to move forward with a bold new vision, recreate itself and build a new city that can retain and attract youth and young professionals and become a vibrant, globally attractive centre," said MacDonald.



Cape Breton JCI presented members of the Joint Review Panel a list of land-use recommendations during Friday's hearing. They are:

  • JCI is aware that it is the governments' responsibility to bring the site to a minimum level of remediation, which will be suitable for uses that include park land and/or commercial light industrial. Therefore, we must take into account these limitations when putting forward recommendations for future site use.

  • We will be leading discussions on future land use in co-operation with local groups to develop ideas for integration into a new long-term vision for the community.

  • We will engage the students at all levels of education to create positive dialogue on end use.

  • We will work with other organizations to develop an opportunity for local and leading planners to provide insight on "best practices" and case studies; thus creating further positive conversation and idea generation.

  • JCI would like the panel to recommend the minimum level of remediation to be raised based on community end-use input if required.

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:
Left to right, Holley Muise, Marilyn Blandin, John Patrick Fitzgerald, Rachelle McGrath and Samar Ali participate in Friday's Joint Review Panel hearing in Sydney. The group members are representatives of Sydney Academy's Environmental Club.