Don't let JAG die, says Chair

Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post - Front page
Monday, June 4, 2003

The chairperson of the Joint Action Group is warning the community it will lose its footing as an equal partner in the cleanup of Canada's worst toxic waste site if the community-driven process is shut down.
"I'm coming out against the demise of the MOU (Memorandum of Understanding)," said Dan Fraser. "If it's gone, the partnership is gone. If the partnership is gone, the community will be left to its own devices again."

The MOU between the three levels of government and the community will be automatically renewed for another five years in September unless one of the three partners gives a written notice of termination this month.

Government partners are meeting with JAG members Monday to discuss the group's future but some recent reactions from government has Fraser doubting the MOU will be renewed. In a letter by David Darrow, chairperson of the executive committee representing the three levels of government, it was learned that two representatives from JAG are not permitted to take part in the finalization of a Sydney Urban Area Statistical Analysis Report.
"The Executive Committee concluded that the authors of this document should be given the opportunity to complete their work and file their final report without further intervention. "Interested parties will, of course, have the opportunity to scrutinize and comment on the report once it has been made available to the public, " wrote Darrow.

Although there is a partnership in place now, citizens can't take part in the project until after it is completed even though the work was funded under the $62 million cost share agreement supporting cleanup efforts and came from a JAG motion. Instead of being treated as an equal partner, JAG is deemed simply as an interested party, said Fraser.
"This certainly isn't communicating in an open and cooperative manner, that's for sure," said Fraser. "We know that two of our very learned and respected members would like to take part in that review. "They have some questions about that particular report."

The statistical analysis is expected to outline the degree of contamination within a three kilometre boundary of the Sydney tar ponds and coke oven sites. The focus is on the amount of outfall from stacks on the site during the steel plant's operation.

In 1977, stacks at the SYSCO coke plant were reported to have spewed out the highest amount of dust in the country in that year - far surpassing major centers such as Toronto and Hamilton at that time.
"This should describe if there has been an impact from those operations in the community." Fraser said being kept out in the cold is not very fair to citizens, "the volunteers of this organization who have been spending a great deal of time and effort on behalf of our community."

JAG was also refused funding in May for a study aiming to take a retrospective look at the health of steel and coke ovens workers in relation to working at the local steel industry.

It was the first time JAG was flatly denied money by its partners. They were also informed government will be seeking participation from the Cape Breton District Health Authority when it comes to determining funding for studies addressing the future health of this community.

Fraser said even though that is a change in direction, JAG wasn't party to any discussions regarding that issue.

The chairperson said government has gained a great deal of credibility during JAG's existence. The community has also benefited from monthly access to two regional director generals from the federal government and the CEO from the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.
"They do come and they are held accountable."

Fraser said his fear is that once the community is no longer considered a partner, citizens will only get "what government decides you should have."