(This is the first of a two-part series) 

Instead of a rich palette of fall foliage, Mike Lancaster was surrounded by muted shades of green and brown as he started on the north side of the hill up to the plateau. He felt a sense of calm being able to see beyond the tall, wide trunks of red spruce, as he stepped over dead wood, onto the undulating mounds of thick, spongy moss.

Lancaster is the Stewardship Coordinator of the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA) and he was surveying part of the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area (IRWA) — roughly 11,000 hectares of land near St. Margaret’s Bay.

“It’s the kind of forest you can see through because it’s been there for centuries,” he tells me. The interconnected tree crowns make it too shady for bushes and shrubs to grow, so there’s not much to obscure your view plane.

It was then, as he was coming over the plateau that Lancaster saw something he didn’t at all expect to see.

A stand within the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area. It contains a 400-year plus eastern hemlock tree. Photo courtesy Mike Lancaster

Back in 2015, the conservation group first approached Nova Scotia’s Department of Lands and Forestry (DLF) about the possibility of creating a protected area on some of the land the province acquired from Resolute Forest Products (Bowater) three years earlier. When the Liverpool pulp and paper giant shut down and sold its assets to the province, it included more than 600,000 ha (1.5 million acres) of land holdings in the western part of the province.

At the time, Lancaster’s group was part of a ground swell of public opposition that had been mounting for years in the province over the unrelenting spate of clearcutting, the liquidation of forests, and the impacts this was having on forest-dependent species. Many had high hopes that the ecologically sensitive areas of the newly acquired crown lands would be identified and protected. [1]Lancaster says the “saga” to protect the ecologically sensitive areas began with the “Buy Back the Mersey” campaign, which brought together more than 30 groups and called on the … Continue reading

But by the fall of 2014, you could see the direction the wind was blowing. That’s when DLF — with Bowater’s former woodlands manager Jonathan Porter now at the helm — announced that half of the former Bowater lands would be allocated to Westfor, a consortium of 16 mills (today it’s 13) and other wood companies. Volume allocations to Northern Pulp were also secretly negotiated.

Lands included in the community-proposed protected area were also put on the cutting block.

In early 2016, close to 365 ha (900 acres) of clearcuts were planned and the SMBSA decided to go public with its campaign. After several formal meetings with DLF staff and a succession of Ministers, the government finally made an official commitment to the group in January of 2019. The majority of the harvests would be stopped, several would be downgraded from clearcuts to individual tree selection, and there would be a moratorium on future clearcuts until a “biodiversity assessment” was completed of the area, and the group could be involved in it.

Working on that biodiversity assessment is what Lancaster was doing in the forest on that October day last year.

“When I reached the plateau I remember saying out loud, ‘wow,’ and shaking my head a couple of times thinking ‘this is special,’” he tells me. “There are very few spruce dominant old growth forests in Nova Scotia, so when you see one, you instinctively, intrinsically know —if you’re familiar with our woods — it’s not something that we really have here anymore.”

As he came up over the plateau, Lancaster spied a clearing in the distance.

“I just got a sinking feeling,” he says. As he got closer he could see that it was a clearcut for what looked like a new road, right through the proposed wilderness area, spanning about a kilometer and a half long and 100 metres wide in some areas.

Satellite photos show land clearing for new road adjacent to Porcupine Lake started late April 2019. The road was designed by the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal and WestFor was contracted to do the logging. According to DLF, the road was cleared between April 26 – May 1, 2019.

Convinced that a section of the new road contained an old growth forest, Lancaster immediately started to collect age data on the cut stumps and found some of the trees were between 150 and 180 years old.

Later, he confronted DLF Minister Iain Rankin to let him know what he discovered and asked how it could have happened, especially given the unwritten promise of a clearcutting moratorium at least until the biodiversity assessment was completed. What’s more, the province’s Old Forest Policy stipulates the province is to “conserve the remaining old growth forests on public land,” not cut them down. [2]DNR. 2012. Nova Scotia’s Old Forest Policy, p. 1. Lancaster told Rankin that if he didn’t receive a justifiable explanation, he (and SMBSA) would go to the media with the story.

After consulting with staff, Rankin responded that the road was necessary for the $140 million Highway 103 Twinning Project — a 22 kilometre expansion from west of Exit 5 at Upper Tantallon to approximately two kilometres west of Exit 6 at Hubbards.

The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (TIR) was required to provide road access to the private properties that would be cut off as a result of the twinning, was the official response. DLF also clarified that the moratorium excluded cutting associated with the twinning project.

But many, including Lancaster, didn’t buy it. There was already a roughly 11 km existing road that could have served as the access route, running from Exit 5a at the Ingramport Interchange to Tote Road. The clearing for the new road was about 1.5 km long and when connected to the refurbished and re-graded roads, the total length would be roughly 3 km long. With the new road in place, the distance from Exit 5a to Tote Road would be just over 7 km.

In other words, the new construction would make the distance needed to travel about 4km shorter — not much — but enough to raise suspicions that the plan was intended to benefit a particular property owner, namely Scotian Materials, which operates the Tote Road Quarry Asphalt Plant. The company’s president, Robert MacPherson, has ties with DLF Minister Iain Rankin—a subject we’ll return to.

The red line indicates the 10.5 km road that already existed linking Exit 5a to Scotian Materials’ Tote Road Quarry and Asphalt Plant. Back in 2014, the company made a formal request to DNR Land Services for a Right of Way to use this as their “haul route” from the quarry to the (future) Interchange. The yellow line shows the 1.5 km swath that was clearcut in April/ May 2019. When this new road is connected to the refurbished and re-graded roads (blue), the total length of that section (yellow + blue) is roughly 3 km long, making the distance between Exit 5a and Tote Rd. on the new “Ingram Access Road” just over 7 km, or 4km shorter than the already existing route. The beige coloured line running alongside highway 103 is a “parallel road” that was cut in 2013/2014 for the Ingramport Interchange and Connector Project. According to TIR, the 60 m wide swath was cleared and used for site investigations at the time, but was ultimately abandoned as a road option.

A few days after Lancaster confronted Rankin, Provincial Forester Peter Bush visited the site to assess the forest age. It was estimated that 1.7 ha of the 11.4 ha stand had been cut, but Bush concluded the stand did not meet the criteria for old growth. Using the department’s “old forest scoresheet,” an assessment tool the DLF says “evaluates stands in a consistent manner,” Bush concluded the stand had an average age of 109 years, making it a “mature climax forest,” not old growth, which has to average at least 125 years.

The story made the news, and then pretty much disappeared from the public radar.

But the story didn’t end there.

Lancaster returned to the clearcut to collect more data and sent it to the DLF, which ran it through the assessment tool, but it did not meet the criteria for old growth. Lancaster’s data was showing the average age of the stand to be 113 years.

Still convinced otherwise, the SMBSA hired Colin Gray of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) to do an independent scoring of the stand in question. The organization has been assessing old forests for more than a decade. According to Gray’s scoring, the stand did meet the province’s definition for old growth. His random plots indicated that the average age was 133 years old.

The discrepancies between the various findings, raise important questions about the scoring protocol itself, what’s involved in identifying old growth forest, and what’s at stake — all subjects we’ll explore in more detail in Part 2 of this series.

In the absence of a satisfying explanation for the need for the Ingram Access Road, The Halifax Examiner filed a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and so far the documents obtained reveal that industrial interests — namely Scotian Materials and Westfor — figured heavily in the decision-making process.

The documents also show, perhaps more disturbingly, how after years of corporate capture, the machinery of government doesn’t seem to be working in the public interest. Instead it exists to facilitate industrial expansion, and pays lip service to public consultation and damage mitigation.

The ‘company men’ strike again

Emails obtained through FOI reveal that detailed discussions among government bureaucrats about the “access road options” for the highway twinning project likely began sometime in 2016, but possibly earlier, and included Robert MacPherson, president of Scotian Materials, the company operating the gravel quarry and highly contentious asphalt plant near Head of St. Margaret’s Bay. [3]Scotian Materials and Northern Construction Enterprises are the same company, according to company president Robert MacPherson. Northern Construction incorporated in 2010 in New Brunswick and … Continue reading

In January 2017, the Director of Land Administration at the DLF, Melanie Cameron, sent an email to Peter Hackett, TIR’s Chief Engineer, with “Scotian Materials Ingramport” in the subject line. Cameron wrote:

Hi Peter, I understand Alan White and our former ADM, Allan Eddy had been in contact with you previously on this; I’m going to be sending you an appointment for a meeting between DNR, TIR and Robert MacPherson to discuss options for the road.

Hackett’s reply: “Prior to this meeting could you give me a call to discuss so I can give you a bit of background where this one stands.”

I reached out to Hackett to see if he would tell me more about the discussions he had been having with Allan Eddy and Alan White (who I have not been able to locate in the government directory) about Scotian Materials and the road options. I was particularly interested in Eddy’s involvement. During his tenure at the DLF, his allegiance to industry players was no secret. [4]Between April 2014 and November 2016, Allan Eddy was Associate Deputy Minister (ADM) with DLF, at which time he became ADM for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Eight months later he was … Continue reading But I was unable to speak to Hackett directly. Instead, TIR communications director Peter McLaughlin relayed his response:

As these conversations occurred some time ago, Peter tells me that it is difficult to recall with certainty the specifics of those conversations.

So I turned to the FOI documents to see what I could piece together and discovered that the “Ingram Access Road… was agreed to between TIR and DLF” at some point in 2017. [5]Email sent January 7, 2019 by James Hardy (Manager of Acquisition and Disposal, Real Property Services, TIR) to his colleague Cynthia Steele (copied to 5 others). And somehow, Robert MacPherson was involved.

Robert MacPherson, president of Scotian Materials.

In September 2014, after construction for the Ingramport Interchange at Exit 5a began, Scotian Materials made a formal request to DNR Land Services for a Right of Way over crown land to “facilitate a haul route from the quarry site to the [Ingramport] interchange.”

At that point — as we have seen — the road the company wanted access to was the already existing, woods road through crown land. [6]In the summer of 2014 the province, whose authority supersedes municipal zoning regulations, allowed the asphalt plant to operate on the site in question for a period of two months, to supply asphalt … Continue reading

The company needed the access so it could transport gravel and its mobile asphalt plant from its existing quarry to highway 103 via the Ingramport interchange. The plant would combine aggregates, sand, bitumen, and filler material to produce asphalt concrete or paving material, potentially for the 22 km future highway twinning project. In order for the mobile ashphalt plant to be approved, the owner also required a permanent change to the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) and land-use bylaw so that the plant would be permitted — a move the public was overwhelmingly opposed to — citing concerns over air pollution, noise, property devaluation, and creeping industrialization. The proposed plant was roughly 2.5 km from Westwood Hills, a residential area in Upper Tantallon.

Image of a mobile asphalt plant posted on the Scotian Materials Web site.

But we also know that in the fall of 2014, there was a significant development within the DLF. It’s probably no coincidence that after the government hired the ‘company men’ — Jonathan Porter, Bowater’s former woodlands manager and Allan Eddy, formerly with Nova Scotia Power — the province allocated half of the newly acquired, former Bowater land to Westfor, a consortium of (then) 16 forest companies, turning its back on a ground swell of public sentiment to the contrary.

The crown lands in the St. Margaret’s Bay area, including the community proposed IRWA, were now under licence to Westfor.

At some point in 2016 — still before any final decision about the road was made — TIR’s chief engineer Peter Hackett asked Brad MacInnis, TIR’s construction manager for the Central District, to come up with a list of “access road options and respective cost estimates.”

In an email, MacInnis outlines the three main options for the access road: a parallel road, the existing road, or two configurations that involved the construction of a new road. MacInnis didn’t provide any advice on which road he personally thought to be the best choice, however, he did say that upgrading the already existing road (Option 2) or the “long route” was the least expensive option, costing between $400,000 and $500,000.

In the email he sent to Hackett, MacInnis wrote that the parallel road (Option 1) was the most expensive possibility, costing roughly $3.4 million. However, not mentioned in MacInnis’ email was that the clearing of a 60 m swath for the parallel road had already taken place. It was established for the Ingramport Interchange and Connector project in 2013/2014. The access road was used for site investigations.

If you drive north from the Ingramport exit now, you can still see it, abandoned and covered in several years-worth of scrubby growth. TIR tells me that as the planning for the 103 twinning advanced, the department shifted its thinking and decided against the parallel road in favour of constructing a new road.

In MacInnis’ assessment of the options, he notes there are two variations on Option 3, a “short route” that would require a new road to be constructed. One variation (the one that was ultimately chosen), will require a “vertical alignment” meaning it will need a combination of blasting, excavation and gravel to make the grade manageable for vehicular traffic. The cost estimate for Option 3 ranges from $475,000 to $820,000.

Brad MacInnis’ “basic sketch” showing 3 access route options also appears in “Advice to the Minister” on March 9, 2017.

In March 2017, DLF staff prepared a brief about the “Access Road at Ingramport” for Minister Lloyd Hines. The “basic sketch” McInnis provided to Hackett a few months earlier, was also provided to the Minister. The relevant “key messages” for Hines were:

  • Scotian Materials was given approval for an easement in Ingramport for an already existing access road that is approximately 11 km long. A road at that location would be expensive for the company to maintain and would not facilitate access to adjacent DNR lands by forestry companies.
  • Constructing the new road would serve as an access road for private citizens and if upgraded would provide access to forestry companies as well as serve as a better access road for Scotian Materials to their existing aggregate quarry in Ingramport.

The “information note” goes on to provide further background including that “Scotian [Materials] has indicated that if the Option 3 road is built, it would be willing to contribute to the costs of building or upgrading the road.” As well, the note to Minister Hines says that during the Western Crown Land Planning Process, this area was identified not only for forestry and recreation, but also as having “high aggregate values and other uses.”

Then in November of 2017, Derick Stoddard, the Area Manager in Halifax West District for DLF sent an email to Jeffery Brown, a forest technician with the department who Stoddard identifies as having “past experience” with road “layout.” Stoddard asked Brown if he could go out and take a look at the proposed access road, which he says “has been approved in concept and needs some leg work to lay it out.”

So, Brown, accompanied by TIR Acquisitions Disposal Officer Rod MacInnis, headed out for a site visit and about a month later sent a summary report back to Stoddard. But Brown didn’t just look at the proposed road location, he also provided some advice on the matter.

The terrain in the proposed road location, between Big Connor Lake and Porcupine Lake: “was steep,” he wrote. “There is a drop in elevation of approximately 40 m over a 120 m length along the proposed location.” He commented on how the steep grade would be a “continuous problem” in terms of maintenance and would also pose a “safety concern” if being used for heavy, loaded trucks.

This is what he had to say about the existing road:

There are no long steep grades and if this road was upgraded, future maintenance costs would be lower than [the proposed road], even considering the extra length. Factoring in the steepness of [the proposed road], it is probably only a few minutes extra in time to travel the [existing] route even with the extra distance. It would also be a lot safer to travel, especially if it was upgraded… So with both options considered, I would recommend staying with the current location and upgrading it… It will provide not only a safer travel route, but when factoring in the cost of a bridge and 1.7 km of new construction, it would be the cheapest option.

When I visited the site of the new road clearing north of Porcupine Lake with Mike Lancaster earlier this year, we came to the location Brown referred to, where there was an intense drop off. Lancaster pointed out that it’s often on ridges like this one, that you find the old trees.

“It’s too difficult for forest companies to get to these trees and that’s why they are often not felled in the past — it’s too extreme an area.” He also noted there would need to be a significant amount of excavation and blasting with explosives to bring the hill side down to a manageable and drivable slope.

Image of the intense drop off on the new road north of Porcupine Lake. In addition to blasting and excavation work, the new access road will require a nearly 7 metre (23 feet) gravel top to create a manageable slope/ grade. It’s expected to be completed in the summer of 2020.  Photo: Linda Pannozzo
Image of the intense drop off on the new road north of Porcupine Lake. In addition to blasting and excavation work, the new access road will require a nearly 7 metre (23 feet) gravel top to create a manageable slope/ grade. It’s expected to be completed in the summer of 2020.  Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Minister Iain Rankin’s ties to Scotian Materials’ president Robert MacPherson

As we have seen, the documents and emails obtained from FOI show that the internal machinations to construct the Ingram Access Road began sometime in 2016, but it could have been earlier. At the time Lloyd Hines was the minister of DLF. He was shuffled to TIR in 2017, and Margaret Miller, who was head of the Department of Environment, was shuffled in. Iain Rankin, who was elected in 2013, filling Miller’s place as Minister of Environment in 2017, and in 2018 moved to DLF when the cabinet was shuffled again.

Rankin also happens to be a former work colleague of Robert MacPherson. The two were employed at developer Armco Capital at the same time. Their ties are not a secret. In June of 2017, it was reported that during a 30-day appeal period following the government’s approval of Scotian Materials’ Fall River quarry, Minister Rankin (then head of Environment) consulted with Justice Merlin Nunn, the province’s conflict of interest commissioner because of this connection with MacPherson, saying that in the event of an appeal he would have removed himself to avoid speculation of a conflict of interest.

For many, the clearing for the new road was evidence that something was fishy. I asked DLF if Minister Rankin recused himself from any decisions involving the road, to avoid any speculation of a conflict? Spokesperson Lisa Jarrett replied:

The Minister has recused himself from any files that pertain to Scotian Materials. This decision [involving the access road] is an IRM review [Integrated Resource Management Review] that does not require Ministerial approval, therefore an alternative Minister was not involved. Decisions around highways, and road planning and alignments, are for the department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. The Minister of Lands and Forestry is not involved with those decisions.

Given the involvement of more than one level of government, their staff, as well as a succession of ministers, over a number of years, I feel it’s very unlikely that the road deal all came down to Rankin’s ties with MacPherson. As I’ve written elsewhere, the work of politicians and compliant bureaucrats to fulfill the needs of industry has become the norm, not the exception.

Consultations and review processes, flawed

There’s no indication in the documents or emails obtained that Rankin was briefed on the Ingram Access Road prior to October of 2019, which is when an issue apparently arose. That’s when Alva Construction, the company that was awarded the tender to complete the road, made an “urgent request” and wanted to proceed with the remainder of the work “as soon as possible.”

According to emails, follow-up work on species at risk and Mi’kmaq archaeology were holding things up. In fact, in early October of last year, Melanie Cameron, the Director of Land Administration at the DLF, sent an email to DLF Deputy Minister Julie Towers saying there were “outstanding issues/questions” with regards to “aboriginal consultation” and that she didn’t “believe the clearing/road construction should proceed at this time.”

Cameron explained how a letter was sent to the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) in February, notifying it of the plans for the access road, with a deadline to respond of March 8. When no response was received, the Office of Aboriginal Affairs (OAA) advised that the clearcutting could proceed. [7]For more on clearcutting and Mi’kmaq archaeology and how the consultation process between the government and the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) is flawed, please read The … Continue reading

But in June, after most of the new road was cleared, the KMKNO did respond, “indicating outstanding issues regarding [archaeology] work that had been completed in association with the 103 twinning in the area of the proposed road (Porcupine lake).” TIR then hired Stantec Consulting to do the follow up work addressing KMKNOs concerns but it hadn’t been finalized by the time Alva Construction showed up with its urgent request.

In Cameron’s email to Towers — in which the “advice from OAA” is redacted — Cameron says, “If you are ok I will let TIR know we cannot proceed with further road work until these things are done.”

Towers responds: “Inform TIR we are awaiting results of archaeology work before clearing can be authorized but follow up so this does not drag on. There may still be time before ground conditions preclude work.”

In the spring of 2019, before Westfor could be given the go-ahead to clearcut the swath for the new access road, the only thing that was apparently required was an Integrated Resource Management Review (IRM). Normally, before a harvest, a pre-treatment assessment (PTA) takes place, which involves an on-the-ground assessment. But in this case, because it was a road clearing and not a harvest, a PTA was not required, though it was still added to Westfor’s “fibre allocation.”

The IRM report was obtained through FOI and revealed that the department’s species at risk biologist, Jolene Laverty, found established moose patches within 2km of the project and identified approximately nine species at risk (SAR) within the project area. Laverty also noted the area had high potential for the endangered boreal felt lichen (BFL). Mitigation measures were to be applied. It would also be nesting season soon, so migratory bird timing windows had to be adhered to. Setbacks and recovery plans for species at risk to be applied.

These were all indicators that the area had some ecological significance.

According to DLF media contact Lisa Jarrett, staff at the time also consulted the GIS Forest Inventory database to determine the age of the forest, and based on the canopy height, found it was a mature red spruce forest. But the inventory data was never verified on the ground, which is curious given its relative proximity to known old growth forests in the area — ones that have met the province’s criteria.

Without a proper assessment, the project was “recommended” by DLF staff, and the clearcutting was authorized except for a small section that was flagged where there was high potential for BFL. This was the piece that was holding Alva Construction up.

At the October 2019 briefing, Rankin was informed that Stantec’s BFL survey found “low potential” for the species. He was also told that follow up archaeology work was done and indicated archaeological potential was “low.” The final report was awaiting a departmental review.

Apart from that, most of the “advice” provided to Rankin in 2019 was a repeat of what was provided to Lloyd Hines two years earlier. He was told the access road would be “used for forest harvesting purposes and thereby reduce future trucking costs for the forest industry.” He was also told “Scotian Materials (Scotian) owns land in this area on which it operates its existing aggregate quarry…it is likely Scotian would request to use the access road once it is constructed.”

The “Branch Note” also makes reference to the issues raised by Mike Lancaster and the SMBSA:

In the spring of 2019, a request was received by the Department from the [SMBSA] concerning a biodiversity assessment in the Ingramport area. It was later clarified the assessment would not include areas of Crown land near the highway/involved in the 103 twinning… The [SMBSA] raised a concern about a particular section of the right-of-way that they believe might be an old growth stand. Department staff have carried out an old forest assessment in that forest stand and it is not old growth.

It should also be noted that MacPherson had a direct line to DLF Director of Land Administration, Melanie Cameron. They were frequently in contact by email — I counted six times in 2018 and 2019 — where telephone conversations were then scheduled to discuss “updates” on the new road — information that was not captured by FOI regulations, undermining the public’s right to access information. [8]In 2017, Nova Scotia’s former information and privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, made 34 recommendations to modernize the province’s access and privacy laws and it was reported here that the … Continue reading

A Rigged Game?

The decision in 2017 to go ahead with constructing the new, shorter, road north of Porcupine Lake — one that would provide the forest industry with access to crown land and benefit Scotian Materials — was made before MacPherson’s company even got approval for the mobile asphalt plant.

In fact, in September of 2017, MacPherson’s proposal seemed like it was dead in the water, but then something, somehow, changed all that.

After reviewing the HRM memorandum summarizing Scotian Materials’ proposal along with the documentation of the overwhelming community opposition, the North West Planning Advisory Committee recommended against changes to the Municipal Planning Strategy and land use by-laws, stating the location was not an appropriate site for the asphalt operation. But despite this advice, about a year later in 2018, planning staff recommended the opposite to Halifax Regional Council, which eventually approved the changes, allowing for the asphalt plant.

According to TIR, on April 30, 2020 two tenders for paving for the highway 103 twinning were issued, and posted on Bid Express as well as here, with a scheduled closing date of May 26. Scotian Materials, and its parent company Falls Group, is now perfectly situated to bid on the tenders.

The result will be instructive.

But while our attention is focused on Scotian Materials — which is undoubtedly a beneficiary in the road deal — the real beneficiary is Westfor. Making use of the existing road or constructing the parallel road would never have provided the forestry consortium with the access to some of the nicest crown land left in the province. In the documents, the goal to facilitate this access was made crystal clear.

Once the Ingram Access Road is completed, forests that have been thus far out of reach — like the old ones Lancaster was marveling over on that crisp October day — will be opened up. It’s also likely the DLF will sell some of the crown land near the Ingramport interchange to developers.

The writing is on the wall. We just have to make sure to read it.

Cover photo: The start of the new Ingram Access Road, just up from Exit 5a in Ingramport. Photo: Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning journalist and author of two books. She lives in Nova Scotia. 


Ingram Access Road Timeline:

2012: Resolute Forest Products shuts down and the province, under Premier Darrell Dexter, buys more than 600,000 ha of the company’s land in the western region of the province. Some of it is located in the St. Margaret’s Bay area.

2012: The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) hires Stantec Consulting Ltd. to conduct a “Screening-Level Environmental Assessment Report” for the $140 million Highway 103 Twinning Project. Plans for the Ingramport Interchange and Connector were also finalized.

Spring 2013: The Western Crown Land Planning Process begins. The DLF (then DNR) consult with the public about how the newly acquired crown lands should be used in the future.

2013: Robert MacPherson, who took over management of the New Brunswick company Northern Construction, moves the business to Nova Scotia, registering it here in 2013. In 2014 he changed its name to Scotian Materials.

2013/2014: A parallel access road is cleared next to Hwy 103 for the Ingramport Interchange and Connector project. This parallel road was used for site investigations, but was abandoned after that.

2014: Stephen McNeil’s Liberals hire the company men — former Bowater woodlands manager Jonathan Porter as the Executive Director of the government’s renewable resources branch and Allan Eddy, former Nova Scotia Power manager, as the Associate Deputy Minister.

Summer 2014: Construction of the Ingramport Interchange begins with a scheduled completion date of 2016.

Summer 2014: The province, whose authority supersedes municipal zoning regulations, allowed the asphalt plant to operate temporarily on the site in question for a period of two months, to supply asphalt for the paving of a section of St. Margarets Bay Rd.

September 2014: Scotian Materials makes a formal request to DNR Land Services for a Right of Way (ROW) over crown land “to facilitate a haul route from the quarry site to the interchange (future) in Ingramport.” Map indicates the access road to the new interchange is the already existing, longer woods road.

Fall 2014: The province allocates half of the newly acquired crown land (former Bowater land) to Westfor, a newly formed consortium of forest companies. The province secretly negotiates additional volume allocations with Northern Pulp. The crown lands in the St. Margaret’s Bay area are under license to Westfor.

May 2015: A public meeting is held re: Scotian Materials’ proposed asphalt plant, located about 2.5 km from Westwood Hills, a subdivision in Tantallon. The meeting is attended by 540 residents (200 have to be turned away) who are overwhelmingly opposed. In order for the operation to be approved, the owner requires a permanent change to the Municipal Planning Strategy and land-use bylaw so that the mobile plant would be permitted.

Late 2015: The SMBSA approached the DLF about the possibility of creating a protected area near St. Margaret’s Bay on some of the newly acquired crown land. The proposed wilderness area encompasses 11,000 ha and is referred to as the community-proposed Ingram River Wilderness Area (IRWA).

2016 (or possibly earlier): Emails indicate that discussions begin between Peter Hackett, TIRs Chief Engineer, DLF’s Assistant Deputy Minister Allan Eddy, and Robert MacPherson, president of Scotian Materials about the options for the access road linking MacPherson’s proposed asphalt plant to the Hwy 103 twinning project. Note the discussions take place nearly two years before the asphalt plant is approved by Halifax Regional Council.

February 2016: In a land swap with the provincial government, through an Order in Council, Scotian Materials trade more than 96 ha (237 acres) of land it owned (in 3 parcels) in Fall River and Ingramport for 24 ha (60 acres) of public land north of Highway 103, adjacent to its quarry and proposed asphalt plant, with expansion in mind. Through same Order in Council the company was also granted a right of way over crown land to access the Highway 103 Interchange.

November 2016: Brad MacInnis, construction manager for TIRs Central District, sends list of access road options and associated costs “as requested” to Peter Hackett, TIR director of Central District.

November 2016:  Allan Eddy leaves DLF and becomes Assistant Deputy Minister for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

July 2017: Federal and Provincial governments announce funding to twin Hwy 103 – a total cost of $140 million, with feds contributing $66 million.

September 2017: After reviewing the memorandum provided by an HRM city planner summarizing Scotian Materials’ proposal for an asphalt plant along with documentation of the overwhelming community opposition, the North West Planning Advisory Committee recommends against changes to the Municipal Planning Strategy and land by-laws, stating the location was not an appropriate site for the asphalt operation.

April 2018: Work on the Hwy 103 Twinning project begins.

October 2018: Halifax Regional Council approves the asphalt plant, based on the recommendation to do so by the planners and North West Community Council, despite the advice that body received by the Advisory Committee.

January 2019: DLF announces it will stop most of the proposed harvests in the proposed Ingram River Wilderness area, and downgrade several others from clearcuts to individual tree selection. It also commits to a “biodiversity assessment.”

January 2019: In an email, James Hardy, TIR Manager Acquisition and Disposal says the Ingram Access Road was agreed to in 2017 between TIR and DLF; that a “plan” has been created and that it’s “not expected there will be much change to this plan.” Note, this precedes the Integrated Resource Management (IRM) Review.

March 2019: An Integrated Resource Management Review (IRM) of the proposed road is conducted. Government ecologist finds established moose patches within 2km of the project and identified approximately nine species at risk (SAR) within the project area. The area also has high potential for the endangered boreal felt lichen (BFL). Mitigation measures were to be applied. It would also be nesting season soon, so migratory bird timing windows had to be adhered to. Setbacks and recovery plans for species at risk to be applied. Project is authorized.

April 26 – May 1 2019: Westfor, contracted by TIR, clearcut the new access road. A pre-treatment assessment (PTA) is not required because it’s not a “harvest” even though the wood was added to Westfor’s timber allocation.

April 30, 2019: Site inspection by DL&F staff. No issues noted at the time of inspection, according to DLF.

October 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 2019: The Department, working with the St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association, assess several stands throughout October in the Ingram River Area. They find five stands to be old growth. According to DLF, all of these stands are being moved into long term conservation under the Old Forest Policy.

October 9, 2019: Mike Lancaster discovers a road has been cut. He collects some data on the age of the trees as he believes a section of the road cut contained an old growth forest. He confronted DLF Minister Iain Rankin to let him know about the clearcut and informed Rankin that if he didn’t receive a justifiable answer he (and SMBSA) would be approaching the media with the story. Rankin consults with staff and responds that the road is necessary for the Hwy twinning project.

October 14, 2019: DLF staff (Peter Bush, Old Forest Specialist, and two others) visit the road and conduct an old forest scoring on the un-cleared portion of the stand. Bush says it does not meet the criteria for an old growth forest.

October 25, 2019: The story makes the news. DLF respond saying they’ve carried out an old forest assessment in the forest stand in question and determined it is not old growth, but a mature climax forest. Average age of the stand is 109 years.

October 29, 2019: Mike Lancaster returns to the clearcut and collects more data.

November 5, 2019: Lancaster sends his data to Peter Bush. The DLF rejected it, saying it did not meet the old growth criteria. According to Lancaster’s data the average age of the stand is 113 years. For it to be old growth it needs to be 125 years.

November 26, 2019: SMBSA hires Colin Gray of the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute (MTRI) to do an independent scoring of the lands in question. Gray’s scoring meets the definition for old growth. Random plots indicate average age of stand is 133 years.

April 30, 2020: TIR issues two tenders for paving highway 103. The tender numbers are 2020-089 and 2020-090. They are posted on Bid Express and here, with a scheduled closing date of May 26th.

References

References
1 Lancaster says the “saga” to protect the ecologically sensitive areas began with the “Buy Back the Mersey” campaign, which brought together more than 30 groups and called on the government to buy the lands in the first place. Increased protections and the exploration of options for community forests were among the group’s hopes at the time. Others saw it as a chance for the government to expand value-added industries, which manage for quality not quantity. But neither of these visions would prevail.
2 DNR. 2012. Nova Scotia’s Old Forest Policy, p. 1.
3 Scotian Materials and Northern Construction Enterprises are the same company, according to company president Robert MacPherson. Northern Construction incorporated in 2010 in New Brunswick and MacPherson took over management and moved the business to Nova Scotia, registering it here in 2013 and in 2014 changing its name to Scotian Materials. Daniel Belanger, a shareholder in Scotian Materials, is connected to the Belanger family in Grand Falls, NB, and the “Falls Group” — “a heavy civil group of integrated construction companies operating in Eastern Canada,” which includes Falls Construction, Madawaska Paving, and Scotian Materials.
4 Between April 2014 and November 2016, Allan Eddy was Associate Deputy Minister (ADM) with DLF, at which time he became ADM for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Eight months later he was moved again, becoming the Executive Director of Corporate Strategic Initiatives for the Department of Finance and Treasury Board. A year after that he became the Manager of Business Development with Port Hawkesbury Paper, a position he currently holds. In 2014 The Examiner reported on his role in muzzling Robert Cameron, an ecologist in the Protected Areas branch of the NS Department of Environment. At the time, Cameron’s research on the boreal felt lichen — a species that had since 2002 been designated “endangered” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) — was showing that since the onset of intense monitoring of the species in 2003 the observed decline had been an alarming one, a result of climate change, air pollution, and clearcutting. Cameron had publicly stated (in the presence of Eddy) that the “level of forest harvesting on the landscape is ecologically unsustainable.” Following this, Eddy contacted Cameron’s boss and expressed concern about the statement, a move that resulted in Cameron being censured, perhaps formally. This also raised concerns that Cameron’s ability to share his work with the public was being obstructed. The incident revealed that Eddy (and others) were more interested in suppressing or hiding research that was in conflict with DNR messaging about the sustainability of forest practices (ie clearcutting) than it was in transparency, its obligation to inform the public, or in its legal obligation to protect a legally listed species. In 2016 Eddy’s allegiance to industry was again revealed when FOI documents included email correspondence between Eddy and Cliff Drysdale, the chair of the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, in which Eddy asks Drysdale to write a forest-industry-friendly ‘letter to the editor’ in the Chronicle Herald, rebutting one penned by Donna Crossland and Bob Bancroft that openly criticised DLF manager Jon Porter. The pro-industry draft letter was bounced back and forth in the department for a few weeks before it was finally published in the Herald, under Drysdale’s name.
5 Email sent January 7, 2019 by James Hardy (Manager of Acquisition and Disposal, Real Property Services, TIR) to his colleague Cynthia Steele (copied to 5 others).
6 In the summer of 2014 the province, whose authority supersedes municipal zoning regulations, allowed the asphalt plant to operate on the site in question for a period of two months, to supply asphalt for the paving of a section of St. Margaret’s Bay Rd.
7 For more on clearcutting and Mi’kmaq archaeology and how the consultation process between the government and the Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO) is flawed, please read The Examiner’s in-depth reporting here. 
8 In 2017, Nova Scotia’s former information and privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, made 34 recommendations to modernize the province’s access and privacy laws and it was reported here that the system is meaningless without records, which often results when staff and politicians use the phone or texting, rather than email, to discuss government business.

Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo is an award-winning author and freelance journalist based in Nova Scotia. email: linda@halifaxexaminer.ca; Website: lindapannozzo.ca

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  1. EXPOSING THIS IS VERY VERY IMPORTANT: Provincial Forester Peter Bush visited the site and concluded the stand did not meet the criteria for old growth using the department’s “old forest scoresheet,” and his word was used to discredit Lancaster stating the forest was on average 109 years, making it a “mature climax forest,” not old growth. WHEN IN FACT, due to Lancaster’s determination to uncover the truth (he has had training on determining old growth so he knows his stuff) the forest was 133 years old and WAS OLD GROWTH!

    The people in charge of this department who are doing coverups and destroying old growth forests need to be reprimanded. There needs to be severe consequences. If Mr. Bush who is in charge of determining old growth won’t do so truthfully, we can’t trust this entire process coming from the department.

    How many OTHER sites have old forests (not quite yet old growth but Lahey wanted protected) and old growth that are being destroyed? WestFor should NOT being doing the old growth evaluations either. That is the fox guarding the hen house.

    Thank you Linda and the Halifax Examiner for uncovering this story

    1. Exactly, Shelly. The wrong people are doing evaluations and calling the shots. We need PROPERLY trained people such as those who have been trained and certified as tree markers in Ontario. The “company men” and the cronies in DLF should not be making important decisions on the Crown lands of the people of this province.

  2. Once again, Pannozzo tells it like it is. Beat for beat she lays it out completely and unassailably, from “Buy Back the Mersey” to the sacrifice of old growth for a few minutes travel time.

    1. As Bradley Toms has commented above, roads have a great deal of ecological impact. There is something very wrong with the way roads are being cut through the Crown land forests of this province. Apparently, with very little ecological impact analysis, massive areas of forest are cut down to make way for these roads. Wetland habitat is filled with rubble and gravel to create passable access to heavy equipment and large trucks. The cutting of extensive swaths of forest and the building of roads to create literally hundreds of access points to forest parcels allows very easy access for poachers to drive right into any remote forest in a pickup truck to load up on kills. The bisecting of forests and especially any wetlands or areas of bogs and vernal pools is a recipe for disaster as it inevitably leads to the destruction of reptiles and amphibians that depend on the existence of just such habitat. The width of roadway swaths is absolutely ridiculous in many cases, leading one to wonder why so much cutting is necessary (is it to grab more trees?). As one woodsman said to me, “Yah, you could pretty much land a small plane on most of these of these new roads they are building through the forests.” Yes, indeed, they *are* that wide! This opens up and disturbs the soil, allowing hideous invasive species such as European Buckthorn to move in and take over. And think of the cost of all of this road building? As many here in southwest Nova Scotia have commented, these forest roads are better than many of our county roads — often FAR better than our roads, with gravel top and sturdy bridges and large culverts installed to get through previously impassable areas. Who is *really* footing the bill for this network of fancy roads that are fragmenting all of the forests of this province? Does no one care that an aerial view of this province reveals that it is looking more and more like there is some form of metastasizing cancer spreading through our Crown land forests – roads leading to every parcel of land and ending with a clear cut tumour?

  3. Roads have well documented long term ecological impacts. There are entire textbooks dedicated to Road Ecology as a discipline yet in NS forest road building is done with virtually no long term planing nor any measure of their impacts.
    .
    At a minimum road building decisions on Crown Land should be made with input from the public like forest harvests are… but following best practice would mean subjecting them to much higher scrutiny including a proper cost-benefit of the development and alternatives to the development and considerations of landscape connectivity and impacts to wildlife. This should also involve something like the 1, 5 and 10 year planning cycles they do on crown land in Ontario rather than being continually improvised (based on immediate need) with no long term plan and no input from the public as they are in NS. This also allows for road building contractors to be able to plan longer term and have more stability.
    https://www.ontario.ca/page/forest-management-planning

    The placement and building of these long term impacts should not be solely up to a few provincial employees as a part of an IRM review.