Copy of tar ponds cleanup figures sent to resident after two years

By Erin Pottie
Cape Breton Post
Mon., Oct. 11, 2010

SYDNEY — Just over two years after a Sydney resident made a request for information relating to the $400-million Sydney tar ponds cleanup, a copy of the figures has been sent to her by mail.

Marlene Kane, who along with another Sydney resident runs the web blog, says in July 2008 she requested a copy of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency’s benchscale treatability report and all correspondence associated with that file, including terms and conditions of an environmental assessment approval.

"I did receive a lot of the correspondence, but then I noticed that they had withheld certain information under two sections the (Freedom of Information Act)," said Kane. "That’s when I went back and said, ‘Well what have you withheld? And I’m requesting that you provide it.’"

An information review officer told Kane that the Department of Environment had withheld information identifying the locations of monitoring wells, test pits, boreholes and areas of specific contamination.

Kane said she thought this was odd because that information had already been released publicly in other documents.

One of the reasons for the refusal was an exception that allows the head of a public body or minister to protect information that would reveal advice, recommendations or draft regulations developed by or for a public body or a minister.

A second reason was a risk to health and safety, including a high risk of vandalism or civil disobedience at the project site.

In May, Kane received a letter stating that upon review she’d receive a bit more information, but that a decision to withhold figures blanked out due to public safety concerns was upheld. She applied to have the second decision reviewed.

Bruce Nunn, Environment spokesperson, said a decision was made on Oct. 1 to release the remaining information as part of the request for review process. Asked if there was ever a threat of vandalism or civil disobedience at the tar ponds project site, Nunn said there has already been a theft of a chain-link fence, a pump, a generator and other equipment. He said steps have been taken to add more security and safety to the property.

On Wednesday, Kane received eight maps in the mail, one which she says is illegible, and a letter stating that due to changing circumstances the information she requested could now be provided. "There haven’t been any changing circumstances, nothing has changed," said Kane.

Nunn said the department has worked to meet all the timelines provided by the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office. He added that due to a change in administrative circumstances, the review office provided an extension to the department to meet its most recent deadline and the department’s Oct. 1 decision was rendered in advance of that extension deadline.