Government will be fiscally responsible when cleaning toxic sludge: Donham

By Tanya Collier MacDonald
Cape Breton Post
Monday, June 27, 2003

All options to clean up Sydney's toxic site are still on the table but a provincial spokesperson is warning this community that government needs to be fiscally responsible.

Parker Donham, spokesperson for the provincial Sydney Tar Ponds Agency said "people, you've got to think realistically about what's worth another two or three or four hundred million dollars. Governments will think realistically about that."

That doesn't mean the cheapest options will prevail but "it's very difficult to get people who are considering a complicated problem like this to factor cost in," said Donham. "But I can assure you that cost is a factor for government."

Donham said he doesn't believe "cost is going to trump everything but we're talking about hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. That's not trivial. And people better wrap their heads around that fact." Cleanup costs for the tar ponds range from $120 million to $330 million and the coke ovens could be remediated for as little as $40 million or as high as $120 million.

The most expensive option, co-burning, was also the most popular during a workshop exercise facilitated by the Joint Action Group.

The community-driven process gathered feedback from more than 1700 CBRM residents. The option to be used for both the tar ponds and coke ovens in conjunction with other methods was estimated to cost about $450 million but could approach $1 billion when all costs are factored in.

Governments are now doing a cost analysis of the options included in the JAG recommendation. Donham said consultants contracted to shortlist the cleanup methods included the 'cadillac' technologies in their report because it was considered "a technically feasible way of cleaning up the problem and it's attractive to certain people."

JAG chair Dan Fraser said "it seems one of our partners (the province) is on a train here that is different than anything we've expected at this point".

What the federal government determined as a common factor in two failed attempts at cleaning up the toxic sites was that no community consultation had taken place before a method was selected, he said. "It was government deciding, taking action, and defending that action. It didn't work," said Fraser.

JAG was then created. Its mandate was to find out what cleanup solutions would be acceptable to the community. The result was a short list of 10 cleanup options for the community's consideration. "From the Joint Action Group perspective, we believed and we still believe that government has an obligation to honour, to the best of their ability, the wishes of our community based on what they have found acceptable in terms of a cleanup option."

Garth Bangay, Atlantic regional director general of Environment Canada, said all 10 options are "real options. My very clear understanding is that they are all viable and use known technology and can achieve the cleanup objectives that we set for the site. If they hadn't met all that criteria, they wouldn't have been put on the table."

Bangay said cost is an important factor but so is the length of time, amount of disruption and the possibility of both immediate and long-term risk to the community.