News

1. Spill at Moose River gold mine

“Atlantic Gold’s manager of environment and permitting, James Millard, calls it a ‘spill’ or a ‘loss of control’ caused by a ‘gasket failure,’” reports Joan Baxter:

By whatever name, the event happened on the night of January 3, 2019, at the company’s open pit gold mine at Moose River. It involved 380,000 litres of contaminant-laced slurry, which flowed from the processing plant where ore is crushed and gold extracted, and down a trench underneath the double-lined 500-metre pipe that should have been carrying the effluent to the tailings pond.

The leaked slurry flowed into a lined pond that Millard says was developed and designed for leaks.

During an open house that Atlantic Gold held in Sheet Harbour on Thursday to showcase one of three new gold mines that it wants to open on the Eastern Shore, Millard told me the incident was reported immediately to Nova Scotia Environment, as the amount exceeded spill limits. He said the department has inspected the site and been working with Atlantic Gold.

“We also worked with an independent consultant,” Millard said. “We’ve now excavated all the material and placed it in the tailings pond.” The main “contaminant of concern” is arsenic, he said, but it has all been contained.

There were low amounts of cyanide in the slurry, he added, but those did not exceed Nova Scotia regulations.

I sent questions about the leak to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment Thursday morning; as of publishing Friday morning, I’ve yet to hear back.

Click here to read “Spill at Moose River gold mine raises environmental concerns: Atlantic Gold springs an effluent leak, plugs a new mine, and sells itself to investors.”

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2. Radio silence from Margaret Miller

Margaret Miller. Photo: Nova Scotia Department of Environment

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Several knowledgeable people who have read the 614-page (not including 51 appendices) Environmental Assessment prepared for Northern Pulp’s proposed effluent treatment system to replace Boat Harbour have identified significant gaps or omissions.

The $130-million project is seeking government approval. In a comprehensive report for the Halifax Examiner, reporter Joan Baxter noted that commercial lobster and herring fishermen were dismayed to see not a single study on the potential impact on lobster larvae and herring larvae. The future stock will be sharing the same channel as a pipe discharging hot, treated effluent from the mill.

Incredibly, Baxter also reported the EA document doesn’t tell us what is actually in the pipe — i.e. the specific chemical ingredients in the effluent.

Section 9-15 of the Environmental Assessment reads:

At this time, it is only possible to identify candidate COPCs [contaminants of potential concern] that may be evaluated should a HHRA [Human Health Risk Assessment] of the project be a regulatory requirement. This is due to the fact that chemical process engineering design work is continuing and there is presently uncertainty regarding the likely chemical composition and characterization of the marine treated effluent discharge (including the potential concentrations of substances present in the effluent).

In response, the Ecology Action Centre issued this news release:

Despite its impressive volume, NPNS’s [Northern Pulp Nova Scotia Corporation] registration document is very poor and fails to provide necessary information about key elements of their plan, including and importantly the content of the substances they wish to pump in large volumes into the Northumberland Strait and the potential impacts that it undoubtedly will have on marine life and air quality.

Chris Miller, a conservation biologist and the executive director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Service’s Nova Scotia division, wrote the Environment Department to question how the EA could conclude (page 240) that “with proper implementation of mitigation measures” impacts to wetlands “are not anticipated to be significant” based on a field assessment of what appears to be only one day.

“I simply cannot see how anyone could reach such a conclusion about wetlands from the paltry amount of data provided,” complains Miller. “It is not okay for a Proponent to seek environmental approvals now, without having completed the necessary work, under the promise that it will be done at a later date, after approvals are already received. That’s not how environmental assessments should work”.

With critics and scientists making noise about significant gaps in the information Northern Pulp has provided, it seemed reasonable to approach Environment Minister Margaret Miller before Question Period yesterday to ask if she is satisfied with the amount of information provided in the EA. But that question was met by radio silence.

“I can’t even discuss it,” said Miller firmly. “I’ll be more than happy to talk after March 29.” That’s the date 50 days after the EA document has been filed with the minister — the deadline by which regulations say the Minister must announce a decision.

But there is nothing in the legislation or in the Environmental Assessment Regulations under Section 49 of the Environment Act that prevents the Minister from answering that question now. When I challenged Miller on this point, she hastily admitted “it’s just a policy within the department that we don’t speak about the EA while it’s under consideration.”

Exactly. So it looks as if the minister’s “no comment” falls into the realm of “won’t comment” as opposed to “can’t comment.” There is nothing preventing her from indicating whether she intends to ask for more information and in that case use her authority to extend the deadline for a decision until after all the holes are plugged and major questions are answered.

“The minister’s decision options include: accept the project (with or without terms and conditions), reject the project, ask for more information, request a focus report, or request an environmental assessment report,” said Department of Environment communications advisor Adele Poirier. The same language can be found in the Environmental Assessment regulations.

As described there, a focus report may be required if limited adverse environmental effects are predicted. If significant environmental effects are predicted, the minister may request an environmental assessment report (the repetitive terminology gets confusing). Mind you, the executive summary in the EA document prepared by Dillon Consulting concludes the Northern Pulp effluent treatment plan won’t generate any effects worth worrying about.

“It is not predicted that the installation of the pipeline will result in long term harm to fish or fish habitat,” asserts the executive summary. Based on a review of some other studies but not an actual examination of the proposed location in the Northumberland Strait.

3. Biodiversity Act

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

The Liberals also introduced a new Biodiversity Act yesterday, as promised in the 2017 election campaign. Bill 116 will give the Minister of Lands and Forestry (Iain Rankin) the power to designate biodiversity management zones in places where threatened ecosystems can be protected for a period of time.

Such a law might have helped prevent the die-off of tens of thousands of bats 10 years ago.

The law is also supposed to protect invasive species.

“We are generally supportive of this legislation; it’s the first of its kind in Canada,” said Ray Plourde, wilderness coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. “We believe this could help with threats to biodiversity which are not currently being dealt with. We shouldn’t have to wait, for example, for species to get to the endangered point before we start doing things to help them not get there.”

The Department of Lands and Forestry will enforce the Act. Minister Rankin says he will look at expanding the Biodiversity Council — an advisory group appointed last year which currently has three members — to help implement the legislation.

4. Irving

Irving Shipyard. Photo: Halifax Examiner

“Two federal ministries are investigating potential violations of privacy laws after government officials shared details about a Postmedia news story and the journalist pursuing it, with representatives of Irving Shipbuilding,” reports David Pugliese for the Ottawa Citizen:

Following a tip, Postmedia submitted questions on March 6 to two departments, National Defence and Public Services and Procurement Canada, about possible problems with some of the welding on HMCS Harry DeWolf, the first of the six new Arctic patrol ships Irving is building for the Royal Canadian Navy as part of a project that will cost taxpayers $3.5 billion.

However, just 90 minutes after submitting questions — and before receiving a response from either government department — an Irving representative emailed Postmedia to say the company had been made aware of the inquiry and wanted to discuss it. Irving Shipbuilding President Kevin McCoy then telephoned and after a brief discussion, threatened legal action against the news organization. Irving’s lawyers would be “making sure you understand that if you write something false about our reputation we will pursue it,” he said.

This is the third time information about Postmedia’s investigations, as well as a reporter’s personal information, have been shared with the defence industry. It is the second time specific inquiries regarding government shipbuilding have been communicated to Irving.

Owned by one of the richest families in Canada, Irving Shipbuilding is also the subject of allegations of political interference in a project that involved a rival firm’s plan to supply the Royal Canadian Navy with a supply ship. Irving denies any political meddling. The supply ship project is at the heart of the current legal battle involving Vice Admiral Mark Norman.

Recall that last August, Jennifer Henderson reported that “unexpected delays” pushed the completion of the DeWolf back six months.

And last month, I reported that Irving has been sued by Maritime Associates International, Inc., an American firm, in part for multiple delays related to the delivery of doors and hatches for the DeWolf.

5. Extinction Rebellion

Please join us in making our voices heard by peacefully protesting on March 15th along with many other students around the world! We will be meeting at the clock tower of Citadel hill at 12:30pm and walking down to city hall, then province house and finishing up around 3:00pm pic.twitter.com/ZnKvlGbaYr

— Extinction Rebellion Nova Scotia 🇨🇦 (@XRNovaScotia) March 8, 2019

6. City lawyer AWOL

Photo: Halifax Examiner

There was a court matter scheduled yesterday for the George Farmer matter. Farmer is the former Halifax cop who was convicted of voyeurism for peeping into rooms at the Esquire Hotel on the Bedford Highway.

Frankly, I don’t know what’s going on with the case now — which is why I stopped by the courthouse for a procedural hearing in a case now titled Halifax Regional Municipality, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michael Blais Vs. Nova Scotia Police Review Board, George Farmer. Typically in such hearings, the judge will work with the lawyers to schedule dates for required submissions and then for a hearing. Nothing worth reporting on, but I figured if I sat through it, I’d learn enough about the case to get up to speed.

So at the appointed time, 9:30am, I sat in the courtroom with Justice Jamie Campbell, two lawyers representing Farmer, and the court reporter, all waiting for the city’s lawyer, Duncan Reid, to show up. The judge read through some documents, the court reporter was judiciously decorous, the lawyers nervously sipped cups of water, and I played with my phone while we all waited, and waited some more, before waiting all over again. No Reid.

At about 9:45 Campbell suggested the court reporter call City Hall, and so amplified and on the official court record, we all heard Reid’s voice mail message. And then we had about five more phone calls, listening to Reid’s cell phone message, pointless conversations with the administrator in the solicitors’ office at City Hall, and so forth.

Maybe Reid was in an accident, offered up Campbell with more patience than a lesser man could summon. More minutes went by, and that patience began to erode. “If I have to get Mr. Savage here, I will,” said the judge, and I perked up. We (although I was just a spectator, by this point I felt like part of the effort) tried Marty Ward, another of the flock of lawyers at City Hall, but alas, Ward had the day off.

Finally, around 10am, the City Hall administrator told us that “Duncan is sick; he’s been sick all week.” Reid, however, failed to tell the court that he wouldn’t appear, and so Campbell angered. “Normally we’d be advised beforehand,” Campbell told the City Hall administrator. “Just not showing up isn’t an option. It isn’t an option at all.”

Campbell said that whatever this matter concerns, it involves voluminous documents that took him much time to read, and he didn’t think it was a great idea to saddle some other judge with the task. So he postponed the matter over to this morning, and told Farmer’s lawyers to prepare costs for Reid’s non-appearance. That is, City Hall (meaning me and you) will be charged for the pointless waste of Farmer’s lawyers’ time and (I’m guessing) the cost of the courtroom, including judge and court reporter. My time is my own to waste, alas, and no one will compensate me.

I’m going to show up this morning just to listen to Reid’s apology. Oh, and to maybe figure out what Halifax Regional Municipality, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michael Blais Vs. Nova Scotia Police Review Board, George Farmer is all about.


Views

1. Drill shed

“The other day Matthew Halliday tweeted a picture of an “extraordinary” new building stretching along the Gottingen Street edge of the sprawling Canadian Forces Base,” writes Stephen Archibald:

I stopped to take a look for myself, and, although unfinished, the building appears committed to presenting an exceptionally dreary face to the street. It is the new Consolidated Seamanship Training Facility (CSTF) and apparently is generally called the drill shed…

So what is there to amuse the poor pedestrians as they trek along the sidewalk past the grim rectangle? Why, that would be the 160-year-old gates that have been preserved, but have not led anywhere for 70 years or so.

I’m a fan of these gates, so this is another chance to rejoice that they survive, even if they do not function. The new drill shed actually provides an uncluttered background to show them off.

Photo: Stephen Archibald

Government

City

No public meetings.

Province

Legislature sits (Friday, 9am, Province House)


On campus

Dalhousie

Friday

The Public Sector and Vaccine Development A Case Study of the Merck [sic] Ebola Vaccine (Friday, 12:10pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building) — Matthew Herder will speak.

Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative, Information Session for Faculty, Researchers, and Graduate Students (Friday, 1pm, Room C313, Collaborative Health Education Building) — from the listing:

Engage Nova Scotia (ENS) invites you to an informative discussion about the Nova Scotia Quality of Life Initiative (NSQoLI). As an organization, ENS values academic partnerships and community-based research, noting the vital role they play in contributing to systems change initiatives. At this session, we will provide an overview of the data we are gathering as part of the Quality of Life initiative and how researchers and students can get involved.​

Exploring the Coordination Chemistry and Reactivity of Heavy Main Group Metal Complexes (Friday, 1:30pm, Room 226, Chemistry Building) — Glen Briand of Mount Allison University will speak.

Voice Health and Function for Singers (Friday, 3pm, Room 121, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Glen Nowell will give the last of three talks, open to singers, public speakers, and anyone interested in the voice.

Law, Status, and the Lash: Judicial Whipping in Early Modern England (Friday, 3:30pm, Room 1170, Marion McCain Building) —Krista Kesselring will speak.

Strings Masterclass with Lara St. John (Friday, 4:30pm, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — a warm-up to Saturday’s Cecilia Series performance. Her website.

Saint Mary’s

Friday

Codco Reunion (Friday, 7pm, McNally Theatre Auditorium) — CODCO!

Mount Saint Vincent

Friday

Bringing It All Together: Two Decades of Social Development Research in 60 Minutes (Friday, 12pm, Room 532, Seton Academic Centre) — Daniel Séguin will talk.

Saturday

Skawennati: Teiakwanahstahsontéhrha’ | We Extend the Rafters (Saturday, 12pm, MSVU Art Gallery) — from the listing:

This children’s exhibition presents a futuristic saga set in 3025, yet firmly rooted in the ancestral Haudenosaunee confederation story. Visitors of all ages are invited to explore traditions and imagine the world of tomorrow in this “museum of the future.”

Until May 5. More information here and here.


In the harbour

06:00: ZIM Constanza, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
07:00: Sampogracht, cargo ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Palm Beach, Florida
08:00: USCGC Seneca, U.S. Coast Guard cutter, arrives at Dockyard from sea
10:00: YM Modesty, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Colombo, Sri Lanka
10:30: Sampogracht sails for sea
14:00: Thorco Logic, cargo ship, sails from Pier 9 for sea
16:00: Asian Empire, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
16:30: ZIM Constanza sails for New York
16:30: Horizon Highway, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from
21:00: YM Modesty sails for New York


Footnotes

I do a lot of “I wonder about this thing” kind of work, some of which results in big stories, but a lot of which goes nowhere. So I spent much of the day yesterday, and will again spend much of the day today, wondering about a thing — in this case by reading a few thousand pages of documents to see if there’s something worthwhile underlying them all. If it passes the smell test, then the real work will begin, involving weeks or months more research, thinking about shit, interviews, and ultimately, writing. If it doesn’t pass that test, two days of my life were spent to no obvious productive end, but I’ll have learned a lot about, well, people.

I’m grateful to subscribers for making this kind of work possible. If I were working basically anywhere else, I’d have to justify my time to a boss who would demand something beyond “Tim wonders about a thing” as reason for not feeding a constant demand for daily “content.”

I really do appreciate you.


The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. I love how every so often a new group of people outside Atlantic Canada learn that the Irvings own a media empire.

  2. Margaret Miller has one foot out the door, having previously announced that she will not run in the next election. If there is a political desire to approve that effluent pipe, she was the perfect Minister to put in place to do it. She already has approved the burning of plastics in the name of waste diversion, and she has been holding up producer responsibility on packaging. Now she refuses to talk about that EA document until after the decision deadline.

    I hope the fix is not in.

  3. Those are nice enough gates, but that building is horrific even by modern standards. Compare it to the beautiful (but perpetually under-repair) old armory building – why can’t we build nice things anymore?

  4. The biodiversity act announced by the provincial government yesterday is the legislative equivalent of a photo op. The threats to biodiversity in this province are well documented. Clear cutting and unrestrained use of carcinogenic herbicides like glyphosate continue unabated. There is existing legislation which is not being enforced which is why the Province is being sued by citizens. We continue down the path of allowing our biosphere to be sacrificed to allow a small group of individuals to get rich. This new legislation does nothing to prevent that from continuing. In fact I suspect it is designed to actually do the opposite.

  5. The Examiner is doing a LOT of very important work right now.

    Congratulations and thank-you to you all.

  6. Re, Biodiversity Act. It seems to be a virtual admission L&F is not going to contend the Bancroft et al. lawsuit… but they still have a way to go, to actually implement what the act says The Minister MAY do in order to comply.

    So You are given permission by the Act to do what should be done**, Mr.Minister; the lawsuit will ensure you actually do it.

    **It’s not clear the Act changes anything in that regard, permission and direction for such action exists already, hence the lawsuit!

  7. Leaving aside the issue of the impropriety of passing along the request for information by the government comms people, the response from the shipyard was not how you handle it. The response should simply have been to answer the question – “nope, your sources are wrong, the welds are not a problem. Happy to answer your concern..” The journalists won’t be intimidated by these threats – particularly not a large outlet like Postmedia – and they already know the law of defamation. The threats, if anything, will just make a journalist think there must be something to hide somewhere, or else why legal threats? It was a comms fail.