Halifax councillors approved an amended bylaw restricting infilling in the Northwest Arm, and a supplementary report on infilling in Dartmouth Cove will come from staff later.

As the Halifax Examiner reported on Monday, a group called Save Dartmouth Cove wanted that area to be included in the proposed bylaw regarding restrictions infilling on properties on the Northwest Arm.

Currently, Transport Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) have jurisdiction around the Northwest Arm, although HRM staff have been in discussions with the federal government around infilling in the arm specifically for a number of years.

Coun. Waye Mason said he had concerns about limiting the bylaw to restricting infilling only on the Northwest Arm.

“Why are we approving infill, if we’re determining that the feds and the province may or may not have the only say? Why would we ever approve anywhere infill that isn’t in an industrial zone along the harbour? Why are we just picking one area?” Mason said.

“I’ve got to ask, are we going to do this piecemeal as council? Are we going to continue to wait until some proposal comes forward for another Bedford reef, for doing infill on Graham’s Grove on the lake, which has lots on it, and then we’re going to have this mad scramble again? Or are we going to take a very much 30,000-foot view and say ‘if it’s not industrial, we’re not interested. You have to ask council to have debate?”

Deputy Mayor Sam Austin said he supported the restrictions for infilling on the Northwest Arm, but introduced an amendment to add Dartmouth Cove to the bylaw. Austin’s amendment included a request for a supplementary staff report regarding infilling in Dartmouth Cove, as well as a request for Mayor Mike Savage to write a letter to federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez requesting an immediate stop to infilling in Dartmouth Cove.

“We’ve had two staff reports now, and a third still outstanding, and HRM has made a formal submission on Dartmouth Cove,” Austin said.

“It is kind of hard, in this moment, to be in a celebratory mood when you have that, and it feels like we’ve chosen one problem to address and left the other. Dartmouth Cove is not a new issue. It’s been about a year and a half now. And like I said, it’s been here [in council] on many forms, and we’ve written the feds on it,” Austin said.

Austin wanted to know why Dartmouth Cove wasn’t included on the report regarding the infilling at the Northwest Arm.

Municipal planner Luc Ouellet said the federal government is open to recognizing limiting jurisdiction to HRM to issue permits on parts of navigatable waters in HRM with conditions of meeting the land-use bylaw. However, Ouellet said he wasn’t sure the federal government was including other parts of the working harbour such as Dartmouth Cove at this point.

“The Northwest Arm, while it’s part of the Halifax Harbour and the Port Authority does have a role to play, it’s a very limited role because its background as a recreational water body,” Ouellet said.

Ouellet said it’s possible HRM could have talks with the federal government about other areas of the harbour, but council should move on the current motion quickly.

“It does take two to tango, and if the federal government isn’t willing to tango on the rest of the harbour, there’s not much we can do. We do have a limited jurisdiction,” Ouellet said.

‘What would King’s Wharf be if we didn’t have infilling?’

Coun. David Hendsbee asked where in HRM could pyritic slate could be safely dumped, and suggested the pre-Confederation water lots on the Northwest Arm could be those locations.

“We have some spots along the Bedford Basin. I know the Port of Halifax, it looks like there will be infilling in part of their pier… to make their piers longer for larger ships. As we create more housing opportunities, we’re going to be digging up more pyritic slate. Where are we going to deposit it? We need to find those locations,” Hendsbee said.

“What would King’s Wharf be if we didn’t have infilling?”

Coun. Patty Cuttell, whose district includes neighbourhoods on the Northwest Arm, said the arm is a “critical waterway to our city,” and listed a number of sailing and boating organizations that use the arm for their programs.

Cuttell said she didn’t think now was the time to add Dartmouth Cove, adding “we’re at the finish line” on the infilling issue in the Northwest Arm.

“If you filled all the lots you could fill on the Northwest Arm, you would actually lose a third of the water area, and reduce the entryway to the Northwest Arm by 50%, which is a significant impact to the enjoyment and use of that space,” Cuttell said.

“That’s what’s at risk here, and it’s really critical we move forward with this quickly as we possibly can.”

Concerns about letter to transport minister

But several councillors took issue with the fourth item on Austin’s amendment: the letter to the federal transport minister.

“Why can’t we just do number three [the supplementary staff report], see what the result is for number three, and that may lead to a number four [the letter], and we may not even need number four,” Coun. Tony Mancini said.

Cuttell said she thought that asking for Savage to write a letter to the federal transport minister to stop infilling at Dartmouth Cove before HRM had a chance to discuss the issue with the federal government is “putting the cart before the horse.”

She suggested bringing Dartmouth Cove as a motion at the next council meeting.

“We need to carefully consider how we move forward with Dartmouth Cove and really consider the scope of everything that needs to be considered there because it’s not the same as the Northwest Arm,” Cuttell said.

Municipal solicitor John Traves urged council to get a supplementary staff report before having the mayor write a letter to the federal transport minister.

Coun. Paul Russell asked for the amendment to be split, so councillors could vote separately on number three and number four in Austin’s amendment.

For his part, Savage said there was still work to do on the issue of Dartmouth Cove, and agreed with other councillors about their concerns on writing the letter to Rodriguez.

“This is a beautiful part of the city, the whole Dartmouth Cove area. We’ve had plans for this for a long, long time, trying to figure out how do we share the beauty of this area,” Savage said.

“I just don’t like the idea of asking for a supplementary report and pre-judging it at the same time. I think I can support number three, but I can’t support number four for that reason.”

Austin said he included the letter request in his amendment because there currently is an application to infill at Dartmouth Cove. As the Examiner previously reported, that application was filed by Bruce Wood, owner of 4197847 Nova Scotia Ltd., to fill a 2.7-hectare water lot at 1 Parker St.

“The feds are actually going to run out of time in Dartmouth Cove and be looking forward to make a decision,” Austin said. “They could be signing it this afternoon, for all I know.”

“If we don’t write the feds and ask ‘please don’t decide on that until we have a chance to consider this, do they then go ahead without any objection from us? If it’s going to be a year and a half to come back on this report for Dartmouth Cove, that’s going to be too long.”

Austin agreed to withdrawl the mention of the letter from the amendment. Council unanimously voted to pass the amended motion.

Hemlocks and woolly adelgid

Council also approved a motion for a staff report on a management plan for hemlocks in HRM that are being affected by an invasive insect called woolly adelgid.

Coun. Kathryn Morse made the motion for the report, saying the issue of hemlocks and the woolly adelgid came to her attention because of Hemlock Ravine Park, which is in her district.

“That park has some of the oldest hemlocks in the province,” Morse said. “There was one that died of natural causes last year and it was aged at around 400 years old.”

A gravel path winds its way through a forested areaas beams of sunlight shine through the tree branches.
Hemlock Ravine Park in Halifax. Credit: Suzanne Rent

She noted there are hemlocks in parks across the HRM, including Sandy Lake in Bedford, which is one of the province’s special planning areas for housing. Woolly adelgid was found on hemlocks on a private property in Bedford in August.

“It’s been addressed in Bedford, but it’s a signal we will be seeing this pest more,” Morse said.

She noted there are measures, including vaccinations, which can reduce the insect on the trees. Morse noted a management plan could include details on plans for all the ways in which the pest can be addressed.

Coun. Paul Russell wanted to add Sackville Lakes Provincial Park to be included in the report and the management plan. CAO Cathie O’Toole noted HRM wouldn’t have the authority to do work in provincial parks, but that the municipality could have discussions with the province.

Morse’s motion was carried.

Coun. Paul Russell

A white man in a suit speaks at a podium.
Coun. Paul Russell at council’s swearing-in ceremony in 2020. Credit: Zane Woodford

Before council began presentations Tuesday, Coun. Paul Russell shared that he has head and neck cancer. Russell said the cancer was caught early, and while surgery wasn’t recommended, he will be undergoing treatments for the next couple of months. Russell said he expects to make a full recovery.

Russell’s office sent out a press release Tuesday afternoon that read, in part:

Through this treatment, and for some time afterwards, I am putting my health above everything else. I need to do this so that I can continue to work for my community.  I live in an incredible community. I want to do what I can to help move it forward, and I can only do that if I am healthy.

Through this time, I am asking for your patience and understanding as I navigate this chapter of my life.  Aside from this, I also ask each and every one of you to tell your loved ones that you love them.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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