Cleanup or coverup? Resident asks of tar ponds plan

The plan to treat toxic material from the Sydney tar ponds and bury it is being met with mixed reaction from residents.

The federal and provincial governments announced Sunday that the toxic sludge will be mixed with a concrete-like substance and covered at a cost of $400 million.

The material will not be incinerated, a concern of many residents who worried the emissions would pollute the air and create health problems.

But the new plan is still a disappointment to Nela MacQueen, who can see the tar ponds site from her front window.

"Fifteen years ago we were promised that the fish would be swimming in the tar pond, [that] it would be a cleanup, not a coverup," she said.

Government officials have come to Sydney twice in the past 20 years to announce the tar ponds cleanup, and some wonder how this latest plan differs from a $20-million proposal in the mid-1990s to simply fill the tar ponds in with slag.

An official with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency says the new plan is a more elaborate and safer approach.

"And look at the price," said agency CEO Frank Potter. "In 1995 it was about $20 million and we're talking $400 million."

The Sierra Club was quick to speak out against the plan, saying the technology has not been proven.

But the project gets the stamp of approval from the local health authority.

"This represents the least risky of all the options with respect to cleanup," said John Malcom, CEO of the Cape Breton District Health Authority. "It's better than the alternatives and it's important to get on with this."

After years of debate and delays, officials say preliminary work is expected to begin this summer and capping of the site will start in 2008.


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