Tar Ponds Postcards Anger Some People

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post Front page
Tues., May 18, 2004

SYDNEY - An upbeat government message printed on glossy postcards delivered to 50,000 Cape Breton residents last week has angered some taxpayers.

Two postcards with English messages and two with French messages, were sent to each home around the same time federal and provincial governments announced $400 million in funding to clean up the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites.

"Iím offended as a taxpayer," said Candia McLean, a River Ryan resident. "This flagrant use of our money has to stop."

The first postcard has a photograph of the tar ponds with the words "Letís get on with it," on the front and a general description of how the remediation will be done on the back. The second has a picture of the toxic sites as green spaces with the words "Imagine what Sydney can be" on the front. The back of the postcard invites readers to dream of what the spot could look like in the future.

"We all know the news," she said. "Is this really necessary? Most people I know that got them said it was silliness. "They have to get a grip on their spending. Iím really ticked." McLean said the same message could have been printed on a sheet of paper instead of the expensive material used by governments.

Holley Grant, a Sydney resident, said she was disappointed to learn the postcards werenít printed on the island. When told a Halifax firm was the only one with the technology needed to meet a looming deadline, Grant said she wasnít convinced governments tried hard enough to hire an island firm. "These kinds of contracts make a big difference in our community," she said.

Parker Donham, spokesperson for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said the purpose of the postcards was to inform people of the announcement and to remind residents there is an opportunity for the sites in the future. Another reason for the direct mailout was to improve communications regarding the toxic sites.

Donham, a former journalist, said media is conflict driven. "You canít have a $400 million project explained only by reporters who have a long history of going to the same, tiny handful of critics who oppose everything we do and give them half of the space," said Donham. "For so long weíve dwelled on how difficult this problem is and how tough it is to solve. Now we have an opportunity to think about, whoa, what can we do with this now, what can we do with this land, how can we use it, how can we make Sydney a better place as weíre cleaning this up."

Donham said the community has been run down for so long. "Itís time someone starts speaking up for the community." To help government do that, it tendered Bristol Communications of Halifax to design the marketing plan and utilized a Halifax printing firm to create the postcards. Donham said the off-island firm Bounty Print Ltd. is the only firm in Atlantic Canada with a special drying technique that could finish the postcards in time for the announcement.

Donham said government tried to have them printed locally but it wasnít possible. As for the cost, Donham said the "bills are still coming in."