One of the children playing on Lake Banook could get pulled under by the weeds and die, says councillor Darren Fisher. Photo: David Murray, via
One of the children playing on Lake Banook could get pulled under by the weeds and die, says councillor Darren Fisher. Photo: David Murray, via

by Chris Benjamin

The most significant item up for discussion at yesterday’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee was the ongoing pondweed (four different kinds, all native to Nova Scotia) infestations in Lakes Banook and Mic Mac.

The committee received a report from chief planner Bob Bjerke on the weed situation. The report recommends mechanically harvesting the weeds on an annual basis as a short-term solution, and more study into the root causes of the problem (pun intended) to find a long-term solution.

The weed problem was first reported in 2009, and the consulting firm Stantec was hired to investigate. Stantec blamed sediment runoff into the lakes as well as a 2008 project to lower the water level of Lake Banook to allow for the construction of the North Dartmouth Trunk Sewer.

Short-term, Stantec considered applying herbicides, dredging and removing sediment, and mechanically harvesting the weeds. There was a strong public response against the use of herbicides and no interest in dredging (the most expensive option), according to Bjerke’s report.

Based on that public feedback, Bjerke recommends mechanical dredging as the preferable short-term solution, and that this work be included in the upcoming 2015/2016 budget, to be completed at the end of March. The expected cost will be $210,000, annually.

Councillor Bill Karsten, while emphasizing that something “has to be done” to get rid of the weeds, moved to defer discussion until the next meeting, on February 5, “in case of new information.” Councillor Barry Dalrymple seconded the motion, saying “there is already new information we need to see.”

None of the councillors or staff revealed what the new information was, but it seems likely to be the latest Stantec report on sediment sources and potential long-term solutions. Long-term, Stantec analyzed various infrastructure aimed at reducing runoff and recommended further study. The company was commissioned again in August to further explore how to prevent sediment runoff by improving existing infrastructure.

Councillor Darren Fisher moved that the committee instruct staff to provide the new information, by email, in advance of the February 5 meeting, “so we can decide next meeting” in advance of March budgeting. He said it’s a safety issue and that if the weeds aren’t removed a child will eventually get tangled and drown.

Both lakes are provincially managed, meaning HRM needs permission from the province to implement any of the proposed weed fixes. Halifax will pick up the tab because it relies heavily on the lakes for summer recreation programs and activities.

Paying companies to produce less garbage

Councillor Jennifer Watts stepped out of her chairing role momentarily to give an brief but interesting update on the city’s continued reworking of its solid waste management. She reminded the committee that the review of the city’s solid waste program had recently closed. She said that a report “should be publicly available fairly soon.”

In the meantime, there is a lot of excitement among the city’s regional chairs over the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), whereby incentives are given to manufacturers to create products with less environmental impact, and they become responsible for managing what is done with products after use.

EPR is being discussed as “one of the keystone strategies around solid waste,” Watts said. “There is a strong consensus; in fact from our response to the solid waste review that was the number one thing that we could all agree on.”

For cities, dealing with product waste is expensive, so it is possible that EPR is ultimately cost-effective even if it subsidizes corporate environmental planning. A group of Nova Scotians, including some provincial staff and the city’s diversion planner Laurie Lewis, recently went on a fact finding mission to British Columbia and Ontario to learn more about EPR as practiced in those jurisdictions.

“That was very helpful to have information collected about what the on the ground experience is in Ontario and BC,” Watts said. The goal though is to create a made-in-Nova Scotia version of the strategy. To that end, a meeting is planned later this month with a waste management industry representative, after which city staff will be instructed to deliver a report on EPR to the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee.

Planning for Disaster and Stress

The committee heard a staff presentation on the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge.

That’s a project of the Rockefeller Foundation “dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century” and include “not just the shocks—earthquakes, fires, floods, etc.—but also the stresses that weaken the fabric of a city on a day to day or cyclical basis” such as “high unemployment; an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system; endemic violence; or chronic food and water shortages.

HRM unsuccessfully applied to be one of the cities in this, the second annual round of applications. The list is now up to 67 cities.

The competition is based in part on how much help a city needs. The reward for being accepted is help making a “roadmap to resilience.”

That includes funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, another million dollars in funding, and advice from experts. Montreal is the only Canadian city on the list, and most are European with a few in the Global South.

The committee passed a motion to ask council to apply again this year, using essentially the same application, which Councillor Dalrymple called “bang on” in terms of identifying HRM’s stresses and vulnerabilities, such as the risk of flooding, environmental degradation, and a lack of affordable housing. The committee is also requesting a further staff presentation to the full council.

The application took about 40 hours of staff time.

Pesticide By-Law

The committee received a staff legal report reviewing the recent (back to 2010) history of the HRM pesticide by-law. No recommendation has been made but only two options are presented: drop the by-law or keep it and enforce it properly. It will likely be discussed in detail at the February or March meeting and could be an explosive issue.

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  1. Stunning bureaucracy. It’s a wonder anything gets done. And at what cost in time, efficiency and dollars?