Mi'kmaq sign tar ponds agreement

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Sat., Oct. 29, 2005

Membertou - The province's first project tendered as an aboriginal set-aside will be a contaminated cooling pond near the tar ponds. "This is the first time the government of Nova Scotia has tendered any project as an aboriginal set-aside," said Energy Minister Cecil Clarke, MLA for Cape Breton North. "So it's an historic step."

The governments of Canada and Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton Mi'kmaq First Nations communities signed a protocol agreement to guide discussions on economic opportunities throughout the tar ponds and coke ovens cleanup. The agreement was signed Friday at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.

"The parties to the agreement shall have meaningful discussions that will result in local benefits for our Mi'kmaq communities and the Cape Breton workforce," said Membertou Chief Terrance Paul. "We have invited representatives of the labour unions to this signing to show our support and willingness to work together to achieve as much for local benefits as we can." "We have an opportunity to clean up this mess using our own people, Nova Scotia people," he continued.

Paul said traditional waters on the island have been impacted by the steel industry for more than 100 years. "The signing of this protocol agreement today represents the beginning of a new era of collaboration between the province, the federal government and the Mi'kmaq," said Paul. "It is now time to clean up the lands and the waters that sustain us."

Chapel Island (Potlotek) Chief Wilbert Marshall said the cleanup is a "rare, one-time opportunity for a major, local project to have a large, positive impact on both the economy and social conditions on Cape Breton." "If we can collectively keep much of the supply of goods and human resources on the island, the impact on household and local business incomes will be a boost to the economy," he said. "This can benefit First Nations just as well as our non-aboriginal neighbours, and we share this opportunity willingly and enthusiastically."

Before the signing, Brison, minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, visited some of the work underway at the toxic site. The work is the realignment of Coke Ovens Brook and the moving of a water main providing drinking water to Whitney Pier consumers.

"It's good to see bulldozers instead of briefcases," said Brison, who added the $400 million earmarked for the cleanup will be a boost to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Canada.

The provincial government used the terms and conditions Ottawa has for its aboriginal set-asides. The agreement will limit bidding to firms with majority First Nations ownership and control. If a bidding company has six or more employees, at least one-third must be aboriginal. There are also rules for subcontractors and joint ventures. First Nations communities across Canada can apply.

The detailed design and construction oversight for the cooling pond project is nearly complete. Tenders for the job are expected by February.

Bernd Christmas, Membertou's chief executive officer, said the community will be working to have a bid ready by the time the tender for the cooling pond project is complete "The cleanup of the tar ponds represents a multi-million dollar opportunity and the Mi'kmaq look forward to bidding on the contracts and facilitating economic opportunities for all of Cape Breton," said Christmas.

Clarke said former steelworkers recently met with Ron Russell, minister in charge of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, to express their desire to get clean up work.