After destroying a wetland next to the Arlington dump, Dexter Construction has made a $15,000 donation to Ducks Unlimited. Neighbours to the dump call the donation a “PR stunt.”

On May 11, the Halifax Examiner published the third in a series of stories on the ongoing concerns of people living downslope from the Arlington Heights Construction & Demolition dump on the Annapolis Valley’s North Mountain. 

Despite repeated assurances from the province that the dump is built on “impermeable” soils, about 15 households are worried about potential contamination of their wells. 

Residents continue to notice silty runoff from the dump site, which for years has received hazardous waste from construction sites in Halifax. Since 2018, the dump has expanded to accept and bury asbestos.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Environment approved the construction of an “engineered wetland” that was supposed to contain all leachate from the enlarged dump. 

A resident who is a member of the Annapolis Waterkeepers group complained about clearcutting beyond the boundaries of that area, fearing their water supply could be at risk. 

Subsequently, Arlington Heights C &D was charged in February 2020 under the Environment Act. Dexter Construction, which had purchased the dump from the previous owner, was charged with altering a wetland without seeking prior approval. 

But as we reported on May 11, Dexter — one of the biggest construction companies in Atlantic Canada — never did go to court. In July 2022, the charge was withdrawn. 

According to the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service (PPS), proceedings must begin within two years of a charge being laid, and that hadn’t happened. 

Melissa Noonan, a spokesperson for the PPS, said the company did not pay a fine, nor was there an out-of-court settlement. PPS has not provided an explanation for why the charge did not proceed. 

Ken MacLean, general counsel and a vice-president with the Municipal Group, which  owns Dexter Construction, declined to comment. 

When initially asked about the status of the charge, Environment Department spokesperson Mikaela Etchegary directed the Halifax Examiner to the Public Prosecution Service. But over the past two weeks, the Annapolis Waterkeepers and others began hearing that Dexter Construction had made a donation to Ducks Unlimited, designed to compensate for the unauthorized bulldozing of the wetland next to the dump. 

The Examiner went back to the Etchegary to ask about that donation. Last Friday, Etchegary confirmed the donation:

As you are aware, Nova Scotians can, and must by law, request approval to alter a wetland. Those requests undergo a rigorous process to ensure minimal impacts to Nova Scotia’s wetlands.

In this specific situation, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) makes the decision to proceed or not proceed with prosecution – the Department of Environment and Climate Change (ECC) does not make those decisions. You would need to speak to the PPS or the company for anything related to charges.

ECC is aware that Arlington Heights C&D Limited made a one-time donation in the amount of $15,000 to Ducks Unlimited as compensation for the loss of approximately 1.9068 hectares of freshwater wetland habitat in Nova Scotia. [emphasis added]

Ducks Unlimited has not responded to a request for comment.

If it walks like a duck

The wetland area that was destroyed is just shy of five acres — about two hectares.

Kip McCurdy, a co-founder of the Annapolis Waterkeepers and a resident of St. Croix Cove downslope from the dump, was blunt in his assessment of the donation by Dexter:

This is a PR stunt. Ducks Unlimited has nothing to do with Arlington (no duck will ever inhabit an auto-fluff/asbestos contaminated wetland). The money should rightfully be spent on monitoring water quality downslope from the dump.

McCurdy claims the government’s own guidelines say any compensation should be based on twice the area that was affected. In this case, that area would be closer to 10 acres than five. 

Last week, McCurdy’s group received support from Nature Nova Scotia, an umbrella group which represents about 10,000 people affiliated with birdwatching and field naturalist organizations across the province. 

Bob Bancroft, the president of Nature Nova Scotia and a retired wildlife biologist, wrote to Tim Halman, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, requesting more rigorous enforcement of environmental laws. 

Bancroft’s May 15 letter to Halman reads:

Dear Minister Halman:

Nature Nova Scotia wishes to comment on the May 11/23 articles in the Halifax Examiner and the National Observer digital newspapers last week regarding the Arlington Heights Construction and Demolition dump. The articles highlighted the bulldozing of a constructed wetland designed to prevent toxic dump leachate from moving down-slope into the wells of 15 nearby homeowners. The charge for destroying this wetland was dropped. The company contribution of $15,000 to Ducks Unlimited does absolutely nothing to rectify the situation at the Arlington dump.

You rejected a request by Annapolis Waterkeepers for more testing after a 2018 FOIPOP indicated the presence of many toxic elements at high levels. They had hired a hydrogeologist who also questioned the classification of the site as impermeable. Can the Department provide evidence for a healthy status quo? The existing public evidence in this case indicates a toxic status.

My personal experience with your department was terrible. In 2007 I informed your Antigonish staff that an abandoned forestry processor was leaking hydraulic fluid beside a brook on my property. A DoE investigator subsequently concluded that no such leak existed. I sent them a picture of the obvious pollution draining towards the brook. After no further action, I bought a pump to drain the fluid from the large, leaking tank. Your

department advised me that I wasn’t licensed to remove the hydraulic fluid. Nothing changed for three years. It finally stopped when someone stole the processor.

When is your Department of Environment and Climate Change going to adopt a more planet-positive stance against companies who create toxic dump leachates and destroy wetlands? Why has your department tolerated so many violations of the Environment Act over the years on the Arlington site? When will department actions match your “on paper” policies advocating for healthy natural environments?

Nature Nova Scotia represents many nature-aware, concerned people who would appreciate direct answers and more positive environmental actions from your department.

Nature needs your help. Sincerely,

On behalf of the board,

Bob Bancroft
President, Nature Nova

At this time, it’s still unclear why charges were not pursued with respect to an unauthorized alteration of a wetland associated with the Arlington Heights Construction & Demolition facility. 

An ownership change may have complicated the situation, or perhaps Dexter Construction’s $15,000 donation to Ducks Unlimited may have come into play. The murky manner in which the charge disappeared leaves a bad smell. As well, there appears to be no procedural or legal grounds on which a group such as the Waterkeepers could mount a challenge. 

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual at Arlington Heights C&D. 

Trucks loaded with construction and demolition waste from Halifax’s residential and commercial building boom continue to make the daily 350-kilometer round trip to drop hazardous waste at a privately-owned dump on top of the North Mountain. 

And while Ducks Unlimited seem to be beneficiaries of the dispute, citizens living below the dump figure they will be sitting ducks for any potential leachate flow. 

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. When we finally have a government that cares more about the people and not big corporations … it will be the first time.

    And Ducks Unlimited should have told Dexter’s to take their ‘donation’ and shove it.

  2. That Ducks Unlimited accepted this “sorry not sorry” $15K pocket-change from Dexter for its ongoing ecocidal practices tarnishes any credibility the organization had. #BirdsOfAFeather?

  3. Gross incompetence, negligence, failure to enforce existing laws and regulations — NSECC is a complete joke and waste of tax payer money. We need an Environment and Climate Change Department that actually does what it is mandated to do: to protect the environment and people’s health and safety from bad corporate citizens like Dexter Construction. Tim Halman and Tim Houston should be ashamed.

  4. By what possible concept of justice would a contribution to a Saskatchewan charity with a billion dollars in assets compensate a tiny community in Nova Scotia for poisoning the water? NSECC seems to Dexter’s flunky. We need an environment department that cares about people, not corporations.