May 9, 2005

Dion refers Sydney Tar Ponds project to full panel EA review

The Sydney Tar Ponds and coke ovens sites remediation project is being referred to a full environmental assessment (EA) review panel. Federal Environment Minister St√ąphane Dion said his decision took into account the report and recommendation prepared by the responsible authorities, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Environment Canada and Transport Canada.

"I am confident that a review panel is the best type of assessment to address the issues related to the cleanup," he said. "A review panel, independent of government, will provide the best opportunities for public involvement. It will also identify all necessary measures to ensure that the clean-up of the tar ponds and coke oven sites is done in a way that protects the environment and human health," Dion explained.

At the same time, the minister acknowledged concerns about the length of the environmental assessment process.

"The panel will be given well-defined terms of reference and specific timelines," he said, adding that the federal government will work with the province of Nova Scotia to develop a joint EA process, the results of which will take into account the current budget for this remediation project. The two levels of government are presently discussing a joint EA for the project.

The government has promised that the review panel will carry out its mandate in a timely and thorough manner, making full use of all existing reports and studies relevant to the EA. Information on the timing of next steps and public involvement will be announced once the governments have determined the most effective and timely manner of proceeding, while respecting both jurisdictions' EA requirements.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will make participant funding available to assist individuals and groups to participate in the EA process. Details relating to participant funding will be announced shortly.

Dion's decision effectively rejects requests from a coalition of Sydney area community groups that the federal government stick with the more efficient comprehensive study approach to conducting an EA of the Tar Ponds and coke ovens cleanup.

The Cape Breton District Health Authority and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) Council led a diverse cross-section of leading academics and major environmental, business and labour groups united in urging Dion and federal Public Works and Government Services Minister Scott Brison not to impose a full panel review, which they said would be slower and riskier.

John Malcom, CEO of the District Health Authority, said "The authority believes a comprehensive study environmental assessment will allow ample scope for addressing any community concerns about the cleanup plan, and will lead to a safe, effective cleanup in a reasonable period of time. In particular, the authority believes a comprehensive study will enable the community and cleanup managers to assess alternatives to incineration as the environmental assessment process proceeds.

"The authority believes the panel review approach advocated by some puts the project at risk of lengthy delays. We need to get this problem behind us," he concluded.

This view was reinforced by Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) councillor Vince Hall, whose district encompasses the site of the proposed PCB incinerator for the Tar Ponds and coke ovens cleanup. Hall, who also heads the CBRM cleanup committee, said the Tar Ponds problem had "cast a pall over Sydney...After two decades of debate and scientific study, it is imperative for Cape Breton's wellbeing that the cleanup of the Tar Ponds and coke ovens move forward. We believe the best way to do that is with a comprehensive study environmental assessment," he stated.

"The comprehensive study approach allows ample opportunity to fully address all community concerns about the proposed cleanup. I know, for example, that many residents are concerned about the incineration component of the cleanup plan. A comprehensive study will allow those concerns to be heard, and alternatives to be explored," Hall noted.

"The Panel Review approach advocated by some will take much longer, and encourage yet more destructive debate. It will also put the cleanup itself at risk. If a panel were to recommend a cleanup process costing much more than $400 million, it may de-rail the project altogether," he added.

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