CBUís $20-million research centre to take advantage of tar ponds cleanup

By Nancy King
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., June 26, 2008

Sydney - Cape Breton University plans to develop a $20-million environmental research facility to take advantage of opportunities presented by the cleanup of the tar ponds and coke ovens site.

The centre and a $5-million private fundraising effort that will be launched this fall were announced Wednesday by CBU chancellor Annette Verschuren. She also made the first contribution to that campaign, with a personal donation of $500,000.

The North Sydney nativeís contribution is the largest ever that CBU has received from a living donor, and the largest single personal donation in more than 20 years. Verschuren is also president of Home Depot Canada and Asia. She noted that coal and steel built the regionís economy and the cleanup and monitoring of those sites are now providing new opportunities.

"I see the need for water treatment, I see the need for land reclamation, I see the need for all of these things, in terms of going forward in the mining and oil and gas industry, et cetera," she said. "I see a real trend toward sustainability, reclamation, bringing back the land and the water to what it needs to be. Itís a market opportunity, Iím in business, so I see that as a big opportunity to go forward."

As she launches the national fundraising campaign this fall, Verschuren said she will target those who could take advantage of the services the centre will offer, such as interests in mining, oil and gas industries.

Keith Brown, vice-president of development with CBU, said the centre would make CBU home to one of the most significant research facilities in Atlantic Canada, opening up new areas for environmental management research and programming.

CBU also announced that the Cape Breton Development Corporation will endow a $1.7-million chair in mine water management to operate from within the environmental research centre. As for where the remainder of the $20 million will be found, Brown said the university has been in talks with other bodies, including the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, Environment Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada and Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, although no financial commitments have been secured yet.

CBU hopes to reach its national fundraising target by the end of the year, which Brown said should signal to government partners the ability to move ahead with the project. A great deal of planning will be required, he said, noting CBU intends for it to be the greenest building on Cape Breton Island. He estimated planning and architectural work could take 12-16 months.

Brown said the centre will outlive the scheduled 2014 wrap up of the Sydney remediation projects. The research focus will include mine water management, environmental remediation and renewable and sustainable energy.

"The only direct connection with the current tar ponds site is to use that as a living laboratory, not to work directly on that project but to use that essentially as a classroom that will allow us to develop new techniques and new research that can be exported elsewhere in the world," he said.

The universityís aboriginal science program will also be integrated with the centre to provide First Nations environmental managers and scientists who will be able to lead remediation projects.