Minister takes cautious approach to tar ponds

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Sat., Nov. 13, 2004

The federal minister overseeing the cleanup of Sydney’s toxic industrial waste stopped short Friday of saying the scope of the project will be scrutinized by a panel of independent experts before getting underway. "We have to be careful," said federal Public Works Minister Scott Brison. "(The assessment) has to be defendable. We don’t want to appear to be (ramming) something through without being open and transparent."

Brison made the comments during an editorial board meeting with the Cape Breton Post Friday afternoon. He made similar remarks earlier in the day during a luncheon with the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce. He said that if the review of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites is too simple in its approach and not consistent with precedent, the decision could be exposed to legal action. The resulting doubt could undermine the project. "If we get this right, it’s going to make a huge difference," said Brison.

The issue, hotly debated by various sectors of the community, is centred on how the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will review a project description now being completed by the provincial government. Once the description is forwarded, the agency recommends how the information will be assessed. Business leaders are pushing for a comprehensive study and environmental activists are seeking a full panel review.

The difference between the two methods is that the comprehensive study assessment is led and controlled by government whereas a full panel review is led and controlled by an independent group of experts appointed by the federal environment minister. It’s believed by some that a full panel review will take much longer than a comprehensive study.

Brison refuted that conclusion and said that a panel will not delay the project any more than a comprehensive study. He said that from the time the agency makes its recommendation, a full panel review should take up to 20 months. The minister based that conclusion on results from reviews already done on projects his department has completed in the past. "We’re not going to dilly-dally and dither," said Brison. "We’re not going to see a lot of navel-gazing. There’s no reason why it ought to take longer." Parameters can be implemented that will put a limit on both time and costs, he said.