Joint Federal—Provincial Response

Canada—Nova Scotia Response to the Environmental Assessment Report of the Joint Review Panel on the Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens Remediation Project

Joint Response from the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia to the Environmental Assessment Panel Report

Introduction

On May 12, 2004, the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), which committed the two governments to the remediation of the Sydney Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens sites, located in the heart of Sydney in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Nova Scotia. The MOA provides for Government of Canada funding for the Project of up to $280 million, and Government of Nova Scotia funding of $120 million. The MOA provided details on the proposed Project, its funding provisions and Project management. As well, the Government of Nova Scotia was to establish a single purpose agency to implement and manage the project as the proponent, and did so with the creation of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.

The project plans detailed in the MOA provided for:

A subsequent detailed project description submitted by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency in 2004 was subject to a federal/provincial (joint) environmental assessment in 2005 and early 2006.

The Environmental Assessment

The joint environmental assessment process was conducted pursuant to the requirements of both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) and the Nova Scotia Environment Act. The Panel, the public, governments and stakeholders, completed a review of an environmental impact statement. Public hearings were subsequently held on the Project's potential impacts on the environment beginning April 29, 2006, and concluding on May 18, 2006. On July 12, 2006, the Panel released a report providing 55 recommendations for consideration by governments.

Summary of Panel Conclusions

In its deliberations, the Panel considered the initial Project plans put forward by the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency (STPA) as well as a technically feasible and economically viable alternative means of carrying out the Project. The latter consisted of the in-place solidification and stabilization of all contaminated materials and did not include incineration as a Project component.

The Panel's mandate was to determine whether the Project as originally presented by the STPA, or any alternative means of carrying out the Project that are technically and economically feasible brought forth by the STPA, would result in significant adverse environmental effects. In the process of reaching its overall conclusions in this regard, the Panel made six key findings:

  1. The Panel report indicated agreement with the STPA that both options could be considered technically and economically feasible and that either option could be implemented without significant adverse environmental effects. These conclusions were predicated on the assumption that the project plans for either approach would be further developed in accordance with the 55 Panel report recommendations
  2. In general, the Panel recommended that for any and all Project activities, the environment be protected through the adoption of appropriate mitigation techniques as recommended in the environmental impact statement and as dictated by final design and environmental management planning; that the Project be subject to rigorous environmental effects monitoring throughout the life of the Project; that additional studies be undertaken to further identify risk to the environment and to assist in further development of mitigation measures and monitoring protocols; that the two governments consult on the development of regulatory requirements for the Project; and, that consideration be given to the protection of geographically sensitive areas
  3. The Panel believed that the STPA, governments and the public must be prepared for the possibility that the Tar Ponds site will have to be managed over the long term
  4. Both the community and STPA have placed great importance on the use of proven technologies. Accordingly, the Panel recommended that further pilot studies be carried out and specific targets reached before solidification and stabilization technology is approved for use in the Project
  5. The Panel concluded that, with appropriate technology selection and stringent regulation, incineration could be carried out without significant adverse environmental effects. The Panel also found that, under the terms of the Toxic Substances Management Policy, the federal government is obliged to compare the relative risks associated with removing and destroying PCBs versus managing them in place
  6. Although the Panel indicated that while the future uses of the two sites was not originally part of the Project, it nonetheless concluded that ensuring that the sites have the capacity to support viable and sustainable uses should be an integral part of final Project design

In general, the Panel recommended that for any and all Project activities, the environment must be protected through the adoption of appropriate mitigation techniques as identified by the environmental impact assessment, as further refined by project design and as identified over the course of the development of environmental management plans and associated implementation protocols.

The Panel report, released on July 12, 2006, indicated agreement with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency (STPA) that both options could be considered technically and economically feasible and that either option could be implemented without significant adverse environmental effects. These conclusions were predicated on the assumption that the project plans for either approach would be further developed in accordance with the 55 Panel report recommendations.

Government Response to Panel Recommendations

The Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia are in agreement that the Panel report has and will significantly contribute to their ability to successfully manage the Project from environmental and regulatory perspectives. Panel recommendations have not only provided a clear way forward for a comprehensive environmental management strategy for the Project, but have also assisted governments in decision making with respect to an appropriate approach to the remediation of the Project area. In this regard, as a result of the risk-based analyses carried out at the Panel's request, incineration no longer comprises part of the Project. Similarly, and again pursuant to Panel recommendations, the land farming component for the Coke Ovens site has been removed. In addition, governments have committed to incorporate end land use into final Project design.

In responding to the Panel report, governments undertook a cost analysis of implementing Panel recommendations for both Project options. While implementation costs were found to be significant, these were offset for the full capping and containment option by the removal of the incinerator component. Governments are pleased as a result to be able to report that the Project, without incineration, remains financially viable and technically feasible.

The Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia are committed to ensuring that the Project is effectively managed from an environmental standpoint. To assist in carrying out related duties, the governments have established an Environmental Management Committee to provide a forum for government experts to provide related input throughout the life of the Project. Additionally, the Government of Canada Response to Panel notes that the Independent Engineer will, among other things, ensure that environmental requirements are implemented by the STPA. In addition, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour will act as the lead agency for regulatory oversight of the Project through the conditions of the Environmental Assessment Approval, and subsequent approvals for the Project required pursuant to the Nova Scotia Environment Act. The Minister of Environment and Labour will also establish an independent Monitoring Oversight Board to monitor regulatory management of the Project.

The 55 recommendations generally relate to ensuring that work is carried out safely and effectively, that the health of the community and the environment is protected, that the site is managed over the long-term and that its future uses are appropriately considered and planned. The report is a positive step and a significant contribution in the planning process for the project enabling us to move ahead.

Proceeding with the clean up of this site while respecting the recommendations of the Panel is an important signal of our nationwide commitment to protecting the health and environment of Nova Scotians and Canadians.

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