Wednesday, May 4, 2005 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Another tar ponds cleanup delay?

FEDERAL Environment Minister Stephane Dion's choice of an independent panel review of the Sydney tar ponds cleanup plan is a puzzling, yet not surprising, decision.

Ottawa claims the review will allow the fullest public involvement. Yet the alternative, a comprehensive study of the $400-million cleanup by consultants, to be reviewed by Environment and Public Works, also would have given the public ample opportunity for input. Besides, the entire JAG process - which has worked on this issue since 1996 - was designed to be publicly driven. The final result of JAG's efforts was the cleanup plan announced earlier this year.

The Cape Breton regional council, local district health authority and many community groups joined the province in backing the study approach, arguing that after two decades spent on the problem - including hundreds of meetings, studies and more than $130 million - it was time to get on with the cleanup. The loudest dissenter was the Sierra Club, which panned the burying and burning proposed, instead favouring soil-washing.

Whether Ottawa acted to avoid a lawsuit from environmentalists, as some say, or to ensure the controversial plan had the most stringent review, Mr. Dion's decision will not change. He has vowed the review must be done by June 2006, and any suggested alternatives stay within budget. If that doesn't happen, Ottawa will be to blame for the latest delay in a never-ending saga.