Legislation will decide how cleanup is assessed

Province assured community will be consulted: Donham

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post - Front Page
Fri., May 28, 2004

SYDNEY - Legislation will be the determining factor when it comes to deciding how cleanup plans for the tar ponds and coke ovens sites will be assessed, says the federal agency in charge of the effort. "The public are not consulted on which process will be selected," said Gordon Harris, senior communications adviser for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency." The conditions for having (a comprehensive study or full panel review) is described in our legislation." Once the method of assessment is selected, the community will be consulted on the scope of that effort, he said. "The public certainly has an important role to play "

That clear cut explanation conflicts with assurances the province received Wednesday Parker Donham, a spokesperson for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, told the Cape Breton Post that the province was assured the community will be consulted before any decision is made on how the remediation will be assessed. "We've been repeatedly assured that the people of Sydney will have a voice, will have an opportunity to make themselves heard on the appropriate level of assessment," said Donham.

The province received those assurances from top officials at Public Works and Government Services Canada and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
"I know for a fact that many individuals and organizations in Sydney are keen to be heard on that issue," said Donham.

One of those organizations is the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce. It issued a press release Wednesday stating the organization supports a comprehensive environmental assessment, not a full panel review that could take years to complete.
"Our community laboured for seven years on the cleanup and left no stone unturned in so far as investigative research is concerned," said incoming chamber president Bruce Meloney. "Our membership reflects the broad view of residents in urging immediate action to remediate the site."

Meloney said the panel could tie up the project for up to four years, cost millions, and embroil the community in controversy. "A panel can't be allowed to happen," he said. "It's not needed."

The response by the province and the chamber follows this newspaper's story published Wednesday that reported Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, was assured by the federal Public Works department that a full panel review will be the method of environmental assessment for the project.

Provincial, federal governments working on project definition

"All we have at this point is Elizabeth May's statement to the press on what she understands the case to be," said Donham. "What I'm telling you is, these are the assurances we've repeatedly received from officials in (Ottawa). "It would be inappropriate if the Sierra Club of Canada was deemed to be the only organization that speaks for Sydney on this issue," he continued. "Everybody ought to have a fair chance to be heard on that issue before the minister makes a decision. And, the minister ought to see the project definition before he makes that decision."

Donham said the two levels of government are now working on the project definition and that effort should be completed by the fall.

Sources say that Wednesday's newspaper article with May caused the province to make immediate and strong representations to the federal government demanding the public be consulted before a decision is made.

An environmental assessment is legally required whenever there is a trigger.

Triggers include Ottawa proposing a project; providing financial assistance; selling, leasing or otherwise transferring control or administration of federal land so a project can be carried out; providing a licence, permit or an approval that is listed in the Law List Regulations.