Residents upset proposed meeting on tar ponds cancelled

By Erin Pottie
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Aug. 13, 2009

Sydney - Residents of Sydney who wanted to learn more about the tar ponds remediation project are upset that a proposed meeting was cancelled.

Wayne McKay of Ashby said he arranged a public meeting after hearing concerns while on the campaign trail as an NDP candidate during the last provincial election. Specifically, he said residents worried about a letter sent to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality last year that requests a delay in a playground project being developed on Intercolonial Street, to be known as the Wintering Cove Neighbourhood Park.

A line in the letter states, "This current land use does not create a concern with respect to exposure to air contaminants." Additional studies would be required to demonstrate whether or not there are risks to users of the park. Those studies, the letter reads, would result in additional cost and delay for the project.

McKay said a meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney to discuss air quality and other concerns. On Tuesday at about 3 p.m. McKay called Gary Campbell of provincial Crown corporation, Nova Scotia Lands, which is remediating the former steel plant property, to remind him of the meeting.

Campbell returned the phone call at 4:30 and told McKay’s wife he would not be in attendance. "This lack of showing up at the last second just really, really angered me," said McKay. "I had been doing everything I could to accommodate both sides to try and come to some kind of resolution here. "If you talk to the residents, they’ll tell you that they don’t believe anything that anyone from the tar ponds agency says to them. They’ve completely lost faith in the agency and it’s because of things like this happening over and over and over again."

Campbell said Wednesday that the meeting date was a misunderstanding. He said McKay was asked to gather questions from the residents and that he received a copy of those questions about two weeks ago. "I never expected we were going to be dealing with six pages of questions, many of which are certainly outside my mandate to deal with and I told him in my e-mail I was in the midst of preparing for two board meetings, both Nova Scotia Lands and SYSCO, and I had hoped to get a week off for vacation the week after," said Campbell.

Campbell said he told McKay he wasn’t able to answer those questions within the scheduled time frame. He said he assumed there would be no meeting, but said he never used the word cancelled until Tuesday.

Tanya Collier MacDonald, spokesperson with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, said a meeting was already held for those residents at the McConnell Library in June. She said the agency is currently in the process of answering the submitted questions.