Dear provincial government, please don’t build a highway through our future wilderness park.
That’s to be the general message in a letter from Mayor Mike Savage, on behalf of Halifax regional council, to the provincial government regarding the planned Highway 113.
The four-lane, 9.9-kilometres highway, contemplated since the 1990s, would connect the 102 near the exit to Hammonds Plains with the 103 near the exit to Sheldrake Lake.
The planned highway is the reason the provincially-designated Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area has a highway-shaped strip of unprotected land through the middle of it.
The province isn’t planning to build the highway any time soon, with 2029 listed as a possible start date, but Coun. Pam Lovelace wants a commitment that the province will never build the highway, and will instead add the corridor to the wilderness area.
Lovelace moved at council on Tuesday to “request the Mayor send a letter to the Province of Nova Scotia, asking for consideration to strike the proposed provincial Highway 113 from the potential projects list and transfer the corridor lands to protected wilderness status, so as not to interfere with the prospect of Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area becoming a National Urban Park under the federal government’s expanding national urban park program.”
During the meeting on Tuesday, Lovelace amended the motion to also ask for a staff report on the status of the highway, and the potential of the wilderness area to become a national urban park.
The highway doesn’t align with HRM’s values, Lovelace argued.
“We recognize the importance of public transportation and integrated mobility, we recognize that building a highway through a wilderness area is not within the values of what we’ve been talking about,” Lovelace said. “This incredible ecosystem, this vulnerable ecosystem, could potentially be destroyed if we sit back and let yet another highway be built.”
Lovelace said the project would cost $100 million or more.
“It’s incredibly expensive and I think it’s wrong headed,” Lovelace said.
Coun. Sam Austin agreed, saying the province needs to stop building highways.
“We need more highways like we need a hole in our head,” Austin said.
“Nova Scotia has a long way to go. We are still busily churning out infrastructure projects from yesterday, rather than for where the future is going to be.”
Coun. David Hendsbee was the lone dissenter.
“I will not support this motion in regards to telling the province where or where not to build their highways,” Hendsbee said. “If you ask me, these are still critical networks that need to be done.”
While he supported the motion, Deputy Mayor Tim Outhit said HRM is going to need a Plan B to present to the province if it’s opposing the highway. He noted that plans for bus rapid transit wouldn’t bring commuters out to these suburban communities.
Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé agreed with Outhit, and said that while the province hasn’t abandoned its plans, it’s not looking to build any time in the next 15 to 20 years.