The panel has left the building

Report on tar ponds cleanup will be
in governments' hands by July 13: chair

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Fri., May 19, 2006

Within 55 days, members of an independent panel will wrap-up deliberations and give their unbiased opinions on how the tar ponds cleanup should proceed.

"We assure you that we have listened intently to the information exchange throughout the process," said chairperson Lesley Griffiths. "As we close the public hearings, we do so with a commitment to submit our report to the federal and provincial ministers on or before July 13."

The deadline keeps with the terms of a joint panel agreement signed in May 2005. However, it's unknown when that report will be made public. "It is our understanding that governments will make the panel report available to the public in due course," said Griffiths. "We trust that the community will take the report in the context and spirit in which it was intended; that is, to bring technical and community interests together in a thorough environmental assessment and to provide recommendations to decision makers eager to see a safe and effective conclusion to the remediation."

The panel said it wants the community to feel confident the project is getting an appropriate level of review, discussion and technical scrutiny.

Elizabeth May, member of Sierra Club of Canada, said she feels the panel didn't get the level of information needed to complete its job. In fact, May demanded additional hearings be held so the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency can provide more technical information repeatedly requested by panel members during the hearings.

May said the agency sidestepped answers to important questions by saying more details would be available in the final project design. "I don't know how we're going to avoid a future environmental assessment," said May.

With panel questions leaning heavily toward full encapsulation of the tar ponds and coke ovens site, including PCB sediment, May also suggested the agency may have its project challenged in a courtroom. She's contacted lawyers who agree that burying PCBs, a banned substance, is in violation of Canada's Environmental Protection Act.

May said if panel members sign-off on the project as proposed, it would be tragic. "They can reject the project," said May. "They have the power to do that."

Frank Potter, the tar ponds agency's acting chief executive officer, said there is no "silver bullet" when it comes to cleaning up the sites. "There are many views," said Potter. "Some of the public have very strong views." However, no one wants to delay the project, he said. "We have a sound plan in place. We have thought it through carefully. We will get the job done, safely and effectively. That is my commitment to this community."

The agency will work with federal and provincial regulators as the detail design is developed, he continued. The agency will also develop performance and monitoring criteria with help from regulators and consult with the community through a community liaison committee, open houses, and the agency's website and newsletter. It will also explore new ways to provide the community with project information. "We want to win the trust of all the community," said Potter. "That's our objective."

During Griffiths concluding remarks Thursday, she offered the panel's personal impressions of many individuals, some who attended every hearing. "We are well aware that many community participants have dedicated hours and days, and sometimes weeks and months, of personal time to this endeavour, with no monetary reward," she said. "We appreciate that you are motivated by a sense of responsibility to your families, neighbours and community, and to generations to come, and we commend you for exemplifying both civic responsibility and environmental stewardship."