Cape Breton company part of $52M tar ponds contract

Cape Breton Post
Nancy King
Sat. June 27, 2009

Sydney - The biggest single contract associated with the cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds has gone to a Cape Breton company in partnership with an American firm, in what was described as a defining moment for the project.

The $52-million contract to solidify and stabilize the north and south ponds was awarded to Nordlyís Environmental, a Cape Breton company owned by J&T van Zutphen Construction Inc. of Southwest Mabou, and ECC of Marlborough, Mass.

Federal Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay and provincial MLA Gordie Gosse, on behalf of Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Bill Estabrooks, made the announcement at the siteís materials processing facility Friday morning. "Simply put, this is the heart and soul of this project, or as someone said to me on the way in, this is the guts of it," MacKay said.

About 40 construction jobs will be created over the five-year life of the contract and it will provide local labourers with remediation skills and experience. "Itís a $10-million job for five years in a row, so itís not too often you get those in Cape Breton," John van Zutphen said.

Tar ponds sediments will be solidified and contaminants, including PCBs, will be stabilized. Larger items found in the ponds will be removed and taken to the materials processing facility. Cement will be mixed into contaminated material, immobilizing hazardous contaminants. Cement reacts with water in the material to change physical and chemical properties and prevent contaminants from escaping into the environment. The site will be capped and a layer of clean soil will be placed atop it.

MacKay called it a proven sustainable engineering process for remediation projects. Van Zutphen said he had made several trips to the United States to see remediation work taking place there and when the contract came up he called ECC and they were interested in getting involved, saying theyíve been working together for about three years. The van Zutphens hold 51 per cent of Nordlyís Environmental. It will be the first time his company has done solidification work, but he called the work relatively standard once all the correct components are put together.

Van Zutphen said the most difficult part of the work will be developing the precise formula that will be used, in terms of the amount of cement or fly ash that will be used to solidify the tar ponds. He said it will be important to take samples from the ponds that accurately reflect what is there. "We do have a formula that works, but we need to refine that formula to make it more efficient," he said.

The formulations could possibly be different in some areas of the ponds, he said. "We need to know something that would work everywhere, we need to make sure of that because itís too late once you start dumping cement and itís not setting up to the strengths that you need," van Zutphen said, adding itís important to make sure that everything is mixed to the very bottom of the pond so that nothing can leak out.

Work is expected to begin in October on the south pond.

MacKay said the cleanup has been a model of co-operation among levels of government, the private sector, First Nations and others and it is under budget and ahead of schedule. He said the tar ponds could go from being singled out as being the worst environmental situation in the country to being held up as the best example of an environmental clean up.

Gosse said knowledge and skill transfer are an important part of the cleanup and the contract awarded Friday is an example of that, saying it provides an opportunity for a Cape Breton company to obtain new skills and absorb valuable experience from its partner. "Because of this contract, weíre going to develop an important new body of knowledge and expertise in Cape Breton," he said.

In January 2007, the government of Canada and province of Nova Scotia committed $400 million to ensure the cleanup is completed by 2014.