The governments of Nova Scotia and Canada, and Cape Breton Mi’kmaq First Nation communities signed a protocol agreement today, Oct. 28, that will guide discussions on economic opportunities in the Tar Ponds and Coke Ovens cleanup. As a tangible first step in implementing the agreement, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency announced that it would contract the cleanup of the cooling pond as an aboriginal set-aside. This will limit bidding on the project to firms with majority First Nations ownership and control. “The signing of this protocol and the contracting of the cooling pond project as an aboriginal set-aside, represent historic firsts for Nova Scotia,” said Nova Scotia Energy Minister Cecil Clarke, who represented Ron Russell, Minister responsible for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, and Michael Baker, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, at the ceremony. “They will create new opportunities for social and economic progress for the people of Nova Scotia, particularly the First Nations communities of Cape Breton. Negotiators for all parties have worked hard to reach this point, and deserve our thanks for their co-operative efforts.” “This agreement signifies our willingness to work in harmony with all levels of government to explore economic opportunities for First Nation communities on Cape Breton Island and elsewhere,” said Scott Brison, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada. “Thanks to the leadership of Chief Terrance Paul and Bernd Christmas, we are confident this will be the first of many opportunities to facilitate economic development and build a better future for First Nations communities in Nova Scotia, and Canada.” “For over one hundred years our traditional lands and waters have been impacted by the steel industry. The signing of this protocol agreement today represents the beginning of a new era of collaboration between the province, the federal government, and the Mi’kmaw people,” said Chief Paul. “It is time to clean up the lands and waters that sustain us and I am confident our efforts will pave the way to a bright and prosperous future for all.” The cooling pond is a circular body of water in front of the Tar Ponds Agency office on Inglis Street. Its function was to cool water used by Sysco’s rolling mills. The cleanup of the cooling pond is one of four preliminary projects intended to prevent environmental damage while the big cleanup undergoes environmental assessment. Expected to begin next summer, the project will include stabilization, solidification, and capping of the pond, and pilot testing of stabilization and solidification technology in adjacent sections of the South Tar Pond. “It has been a long journey but today we can be proud that the province of Nova Scotia has agreed to join the federal government, for the first time in Nova Scotia’s history, in establishing an aboriginal set-aside program,” said Mr. Christmas, chief executive officer of Membertou. “The cleanup of the Tar Ponds represents a multimillion-dollar opportunity and the Mi’kmaq look forward to bidding on the contracts and facilitating economic opportunities for all of Cape Breton.” Negotiators for the government of Canada and the government of Nova Scotia agreed in a memorandum of agreement dated May 12, 2004, to take measures to consult with the Cape Breton Mi’kmaq First Nation communities and develop an aboriginal procurement strategy. The government of Canada is providing $280 million and the government of Nova Scotia $120 million toward the tar ponds cleanup project.