Jag Members To Watch Over Cleanup

By Steve Macinnis
Cape Breton Post
Thurs., Sept. 18, 2003

Any notion by the federal or provincial governments that the Joint Action Group would be quietly dissolved were quashed Wednesday as the group vowed to continue watching over the cleanup of Canada's worst toxic waste dump. While the JAG Secretariat - the seven-member administrative arm of the community-based group - officially closes today, the majority of members on the JAG roundtable agreed they should remain in existence and hopefully secure a seat on a new 15-member community liaison committee.

"I feel like we're being dismissed here. I don't think government should ask us to bury ourselves," said JAG member John Martel.

His comment was echoed by several other members who feel too much time and energy has been put into the project to simply walk away after the community has offered its recommendation for the remediation of the Muggah Creek Watershed.

Formed in 1996, JAG's mandate was to help the community better understand the complexities of such a cleanup and offer government a recommendation on a remediation option.

JAG has completed its task and now its government partners say its time to move on. The government has announced they are forming a new community committee whose members they shall select.

Unlike the JAG process, the new committee will not be open or transparent and some JAG members like Eric Brophy feel membership will be offered to those groups which are dependent on government funding such as the district health authority.

"I relish this process (JAG) because at the end of the day, I expected a cleaner and healthier community," said Brophy, who has been with the process since 1996.

The roundtable group includes representatives from all three levels of government along with residents of the community who over the past seven years dedicated more than 100,000 volunteer hours attending 915 meetings which resulted in 130 resolutions being presented to government.

For its part, government coughed up over $62 million to carry out site assessment studies and preliminary cleanup work. The secretariat was also supported by all three levels of government.

The site includes the famed Sydney tar ponds, the coke ovens site and a landfill which combined create a highly toxic mess that remains a legacy from nearly a century of steelmaking.

Among the suceesses of JAG was the capping of the landfill, construction of an interceptor sewer system to prevent raw sewage from being dumped on the site and a recommendation for a cleanup. Residents voted for a co-burning process and soundly rejected any on-site incineraton.

The federal and provincial partners have yet to respond to the recommendation.

Garth Bangay, regional director for the federal Environment Department, said Wednesday, now that the process has moved to a new level, there is no further need for public debate on issues surrounding cleanup options.

He said an environment assessment will now have to be carried out and that process is not subject to debate nor is the contract that would be awarded to the successful bidder for the cleanup.

JAG members voted down a motion calling for the group to dissolve and members like Bill Bailey and Asta Antoft offered a glimpse of what could come next.

"The secretariat can go but JAG can stay as a watchdog," said Bailey, adding meetings can be held in members homes if necessary. Antoft said it's time for the group to reinvent itself. "We should all know now how government works and it is not appropriate for us to fold as we should still be a voice in the community," she said.

Meanwhile, members voted to turn over all reports and other pertinent documents collected over the past seven years to the Beaton Institute at the University College of Cape Breton. All equipment from the secretariat will be turned over to the government partners with the understanding that what they don't need will be returned to the commumity.

At the end of the meeting, there were a few tears shed and a lot of congratulatory remarks to members for their work over the years.