Nova Scotia

Sydney tar ponds' green future takes shape

One of Canada's most notorious contaminated sites may be transformed into a park, playground and concert space.

One of Canada's most notorious contaminated sites may be transformed into a park, playground and concert space.

Municipal politicians in Sydney, N.S., got a glimpse of the future without the Cape Breton Island city's tar ponds and coke ovens Thursday.

Consulting firm Ekistics Planning and Design showed off its plans for the site once the contaminated sludge is mixed with cement and covered by 2014.

"What we're trying to create is a long-term legacy for the community in much the same way that 100 years ago this parcel of land created the growth and optimism for Sydney," Rob LeBlanc, president of Ekistics, told Cape Breton regional councillors.

The eyesore in downtown Sydney is the result of a century of steelmaking.

Pollutants leaked out of a coke oven, the chamber where coal was heated, and about 700,000 tonnes of chemical waste and raw sewage accumulated over the decades.

Infamous location

Coun. Ray Paruch can't wait for the transformation. As a child he was warned to stay away from the tar ponds.

"It's going to be a place in the future where the sons and daughters of people like me, grandparents, are going to be taking Johnny and Mary," said Paruch. "It's going to be a sought-after place."

LeBlanc said the city founders envisaged a grand common, or public space, and Wentworth Park is all that's left of it.

"We think there's an opportunity to revisit the commons, to provide venues for outdoors concerts, new sports fields, outdoor workout stations, trail systems, kite parks, something that's really fitting with what the notion of the old commons was," he said.

LeBlanc said he doesn't know much it will cost to remake the site, but the money will come from the $400 million that has been set aside for the cleanup.

Residents can learn more about the consulting firm's plans at an open house later this month.

Velo Cape Breton, a volunteer-run cycling group, has said the tar ponds site would make an ideal spot to teach children how to ride bikes. The group's proposal calls for a number of small city streets, complete with intersections and traffic signs.