Tour demonstrates deep knowledge of
those involved in cleanup plan

Weekend Feedback
By Justin Yurchesyn
Cape Breton Post
Sat., June 11, 2005

Photo - V. Merchant
Whenever the Sydney cleanup comes up there's likely to be opposing views as there was the case in early May when federal Environment Minister Stephane Dion and Public Works Minister Scott Brison announced in Sydney that the project will be subject to a full-panel environmental review. Neila MacQueen, left, and Debbie Ouelette turned out to thank the ministers, but a lobby that included the provincial government had pressed hard for a more tightly managed process. A recent tour of Maritime remediation sites, including Moncton, showed participants a glimpse of life after cleanup.

From May 31 to June 2, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency hosted a tour of environmental cleanup sites and facilities. This three-day tour consisted of visits to the Statia terminal in Point Tupper, the former CN rail shops site in Moncton, and the brand new soil cleansing facility in Belledune, N.B. The tour group included members of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, the community liaison committee for the cleanup, Public Works and Government Services Canada, and student researchers and faculty from Cape Breton University.

I have been a resident of Sydney River all my life, born and raised here. As most Cape Bretoners know, it is hard to live here without hearing about the tar ponds and all the issues around them. I have heard many things about the tar ponds in my life some fact, some fiction.

What surprised me most about the tour is how little I really knew about the tar ponds and the cleanup process. I have completed three years of a four-year Bachelor of Science degree, taken courses specifically about the tar ponds, worked for an environmental laboratory where tar ponds samples were analyzed, and now do research as part of my fourth-year honours project studying the effects of environmental remediation on aquatic organisms. But still I am a layperson when it comes to understanding the complexities of the Sydney tar ponds.

This tour has extinguished my sense of apathy about the tar ponds cleanup, something many Cape Breton residents share. I was surprised to find that other Atlantic Canadian cities and towns have scars similar to ours.

What was even more surprising to me is that these sites have been successfully cleaned up with minimal environmental impact. The CN rail shops site was a fenced-in wasteland in the centre of Moncton for more than a decade. It was inspiring to see a site so similar to our own transformed from a scar to a jewel.

This site is now a bustle of activity with eight baseball fields, four ice rinks, four soccer fields, two football fields, a business park and a residential neighbourhood. What was once a wasteland is now a beautiful addition to a rejuvenated city

I am not proposing that this is exactly what should be done with the Sydney tar ponds site. But remediation will happen; our scar, too, will someday be a jewel. We also visited two sites where contaminated soil is being cleansed of its pollutants using modern technologies. At Statia Terminals and the soil cleansing facility in Belledune, I was taken aback by the astounding amount of knowledge these cleanup officials, and the representatives of STPA and PWGSC, possess about the cleanup of contaminated sites.

I was impressed by how concerned and knowledgeable these experts are about the environmental impact of remediation. These individuals share the same concerns as you and me. Because of this shared interest, these experts make every effort to learn as much as they can about the issues and use the best technology available to ensure everyone's safety during the cleanup.

My purpose is not to tell you to have blind faith in our experts but to encourage you to take the initiative to learn objectively about the tar ponds and their cleanup. Too often, fact is distorted by controversy. I would like to thank STPA for the opportunity to see cleanup sites and the technologies used. But I would like to thank these officials most for allowing and encouraging me to make my own judgments and conclusions about the tar ponds issue.

University student Justin Yurchesyn
lives in Sydney River.