The Halifax city skyline is seen at sunset from Dartmouth. In the foreground there's a rocky outcropping with a log and an old tire. There's another rocky outcropping in the mid-ground, the King's Wharf pier.
Dartmouth Cove in August 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

The federal government is seeking public feedback on a proposal to infill the Halifax Harbour at Dartmouth Cove, and the councillor and MP for the area aren’t impressed.

4197847 Nova Scotia Ltd., owned by Bruce Wood, applied in March to fill its 2.7-hectare water lot, PID # 00114132 or 1 Parker St., with rock from excavation projects. According to Property Valuation Services Corporation, the property was sold in April 2021 for $800,000. The numbered company was incorporated the month before. The application, made under Transport Canada’s Navigation Protection Program, was posted online last week.

“The Project Area will be infilled with approximately 99,700 cubic metres (m3) of material, including approximately 41,900 m3 of sulphide-bearing material (i.e., pyritic slate) from local excavation projects and approximately 57,800 m3 of non-acidic quarry rock,” the application says.

A site plan shows property lines and a grey shaded area where a property owner wants to infill the harbour.
The site plan included in the application to infill Dartmouth Cove. — Screenshot/Design Point

It’s the same kind of infilling used to build up the nearby King’s Wharf development and other areas in Halifax Harbour, like Mill Cove in Bedford and the Fairview Terminal next to Africville.

“Fill will be placed by end-dumping from tandem trucks. An excavator will be used to push the infill material into the water lot, working seaward from the existing shoreline,” the application for Dartmouth Cove states.

“A silt curtain will be installed around the Project Area prior to the commencement of in-water Project activities. Infilling activities will be visually monitored, and additional mitigation will be implemented as necessary in the event that a visible sediment plume migrates beyond the silt curtain. No dredging is expected to be conducted prior to infilling.”

The infilling will permanently displace the fish habitat in the area, but the applicant argues the existing habitat is “of relatively poor quality and low productivity.” The property owner is also applying under the Fisheries Act, and will develop a plan to offset the loss “through habitat restoration and enhancement.”

The property owner is proposing to build a temporary gravel access road to allow trucks to bring in the rock in. The work would start August 1, 2022 and last until August 1, 2028.

“The intention is for the infilled Project Area to provide enhanced waterfront access and land that will eventually enable future development,” the application says.

There’s currently a municipally-owned multi-use path along the waterfront in the cove, connecting the bottom of Old Ferry Road to Maitland Street, Canal Street, and then King’s Wharf and on to the Alderney Ferry Terminal.

An asphalt-paved path is seen on a sunny day. To the right, there's a wooden log fence. To the left, a building filled with graffiti.
The city’s walking path along Dartmouth Cove in June 2021. Photo: Zane Woodford

The design documents indicate two public benches along the path would be temporarily removed to make way for the access road, and the project area appears to encroach on the path.

Despite the intention to “eventually enable future development,” Coun. Sam Austin said the property would be zoned as parkland, meaning it wouldn’t be developable.

“To infill this, they’re going to get all the development rights of the Dartmouth Common,” Austin, the councillor for the area, said.

“It’s clearly not thought out. It’s either pyritic slate dump, speculation or probably, ‘Hey, I can do 1 and maybe I’ll 2.’”

Austin said the municipal pathway sits partially on an easement over the numbered company’s property. But elsewhere the proponent would have to cross municipal and Develop Nova Scotia land with the access road to get to the property. Austin hopes there’s a practical way HRM could stop the development, potentially by blocking that access. He said he’s working on a motion to bring to council regarding the project.

“Just using the Dartmouth Waterfront as a dump site, I mean, that’s not a plan. That’s not a good use for this,” Austin said.

Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher agrees.

“Dartmouth shouldn’t be a dumping ground for someone’s fill. From what I am seeing, there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place from the proponent, other than dumping pyritic slate and quarry rock into Dartmouth Cove over multiple years,” Fisher wrote in a statement to the Examiner.

“Unfortunately, a regulatory gap exists between all orders of government on these pre-Confederation water lots, and as we are seeing, more and more lot owners are infilling.”

Fisher said he’s unable to interfere with the approval process, but he’s writing to the federal ministers of Transportation, Fisheries and Oceans, and Environment and Climate Change “to call for a review on infilling to make sure our waterways are better protected.”

“With increased development across HRM, we will see an increased need to sequester pyritic slate, and all orders of government should be at the table to come up with a proper plan and a solution for this fill, that makes sense for our communities,” Fisher said.

He encouraged people to submit their concerns. The federal government is accepting comments on the proposal at this link until June 10 at 5am.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. It’s unconscionable that a numbered company be able to exploit an old water lot intended for wharves in the age of sail, to destroy a precious and unique public amenity used by hundreds of people on most days, providing the only remaining unobstructed view to sea in Dartmouth. Instead, this public waterfront land that means so much to downtown residents is to be stranded behind a six-year industrial rock-dumping project? No thank you! There’s plenty of brownfield land in the cove already. A few years ago, without public awareness, the last remaining natural beach in Dartmouth Cove, at the foot of Maitland Street, was abruptly fenced off and an infill project proceeded for many months. Now the view down Maitland Street, which formerly was a clear view to sea (literally to Bermuda), is an industrial junkyard. Every time I walk by there my blood boils, but the clear air and views in the rest of the cove bring me back to some measure of equanimity. There is NO public interest in this infill project, it will ruin the waterfront amenity of the trail, and it must be stopped. Any benefit will accrue only to investors with no commitment to the broader needs, health, and interests of the community. Oh, and as for “poor quality aquatic habitat”, that cove is a feeding haven for large numbers of diving ducks and alcids all through the winter and cormorants and terns in summer, not to overlook the seals we see in there as well. This means fish. And one other point, I am not a resident of the waterfront streets and this is not a NIMBY reaction; this is a call for public value to be placed on a scarce resource, a clear view to sea. This is literally the best view in the entire harbour. And it is enjoyed daily by commuters, NSCC students, kids on skateboards, cyclists, dog-walkers, seniors out for stroll, young couples sitting on the rocks. This should not become a dumping ground.

  2. It sounds like this would benefit no one but the developer, who would now have a place to dump his crap from other building sites. But it would be a major disruption to the neighbourhood, to the bird and aquatic life in the area and to the shoreline.

    1. He would not be allowed to ‘dump his crap’. Dumping pyritic slate in the harbour has been common for many decades and is a safe and environmentally sound way of disposal.

  3. Alderney Landing and the ferry terminal was built on ‘a dump site’. A forward thinking councillor would have made sure HRM bought the property and then allow slate dumping prior to making new park space for greater enjoyment of the waterfront. The water depth is less than 15 feet in most of that area.