About 30 people from two groups rallied outside the Halifax offices of a local developer on Friday demanding a “stop and swap” at the Eisner Cove Wetland in Dartmouth.
Earlier this week, one of the groups at the rally, Defend Eisner Cove Wetland, was at the wetland where its members tried to stop machinery from cutting down trees. As Zane Woodford reported in July, the provincial government gave approval to Clayton Developments to clear trees out earlier than planned at site, which has been designated as one of nine “special planning areas” for new attainable housing developments.
“We’re not just there to make trouble or to disrupt,” said Susan Van Iderstine from Defend Eisner Cove Wetland. “We also want to propose solutions. We also want to talk about a possible fix to all of this mess.”
Save Our Southdale Wetland Society was the other group at Friday’s rally. The two groups are proposing a “stop and swap” that would include stopping all the work at Eisner Cove wetland and returning that land to public use.
In exchange for stopping the work, the developer would get access to a piece of land that is not ecologically sensitive or environmentally valuable where they can build housing. Van Iderstine said there are already parcels of land in HRM that would be a fit for a swap, including Shannon Park, the former oil refinery, and large vacant lots along Main Street.
“I do think there are solutions if we get a little creative with this,” Van Iderstine said. “I understand (stop and swap) has been done in other countries, so it would be leading the way here for Nova Scotia to solving a problem. It’s not really a question of should we have houses or should we have a wetland. The question is really, ‘How can we get both?’”
Bill Zebedee is with the Save Our Southdale Wetland Society. He said both groups want answers from Clayton Developments.
“I’ve sent about 12 emails to them since January and got no response,” Zebedee said. “We’re just not getting an answer. I guess they got their $22 million in blood money and that’s all they care about. They don’t want to hear from us.”
Zebedee said his group has been asking for a stop and swap since January. Like Van Inderstine, Zebedee said there are other pieces of land in Dartmouth that Clayton Developments could remediate and use for housing.
Zebedee said the groups are also concerned about wildlife and at-risk species in the wetland. Zebedee said he’s spent about 600 hours this year in the wetland documenting what he’s found there.
As he told Woodford in July, the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre identified wood turtles, which are a species at risk, on the property. Zebedee said there are also three types of bats in the wetland.
“All we’re asking for is a hard, hard pause on everything so we can get experts in,” Zebedee said.
In July, Elizabeth MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Climate Change, said in an email the department looked at the wetland area.
“For this specific development, the developer requested a wetland alteration approval from the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Climate Change. This was approved and no evidence of Black Ash, Wood Turtles or any other endangered species was found in the wetland area which was the subject/scope of our approval,” MacDonald wrote.
“This development did not meet the criteria set out in the Nova Scotia Environment Act to trigger the requirement for an environmental assessment which is an alteration of more than two hectares of wetland.”
Jacob Fillmore just joined Defend Eisner Cove Wetland last week. He was at the wetland on Monday when the work to clear the trees started. Fillmore locked himself to one of the pieces of machinery at the site.
“I really think this is worthy of protection,” Fillmore said. “Wetlands absorb massive amounts of carbon and when we disturb them, they release that carbon that they’ve stored over the decades back into the atmosphere. We’ve got this huge asset and we have the potential to mess it up and turn it into this huge liability. On top of that, we’re in the middle of a climate emergency, so it’s really imperative we capture as much carbon as we can and try not to emit it.”
Fillmore said there are pieces of land around the city that are more suitable for development and Eisner Cove should be left alone.
“The government is really trying to push this narrative that it’s going to be affordable housing and we need as much housing as we can possibly get and it’s really imperative this development happen. I’m of the opinion that we don’t need more housing at all; we really just need to be doing a better job of allocating the housing that we have.”
Van Iderstine said she didn’t expect anyone from Clayton Developments to come out of their offices speak with them at the rally, but she said she wants the developer to know that the groups aren’t their enemy and they want to work with them to find a solution.
“We’re hoping this is just the start of the solution,” Van Iderstine said. “We’re hoping that they will be willing to have that conversation with us, along with the province of Nova Scotia.”
Van Iderstine said the Defend Eisner Cove Wetland did get an informal call from the developer this week.
“It was very encouraging that contact was made and I was very pleased about that,” she said. “We don’t have a meeting of the minds yet, but just an open channel of communication is a very good thing.”
Van Iderstine said they don’t know what Clayton’s immediate or near future plans are for work at the wetland, but she said they will continue to protect the site.
Meanwhile, Zebedee said the fight for Eisner Cove wetland isn’t a NIMBY issue as both of the groups have supporters from all over.
“What I want people to know and really understand is this is ecocide,” Zebedee said. “The developer is going out and purposely destroying…hectares of wetland. It looks like a swamp when you’re driving by really fast, but take your time and go for a walk and then phone me and say you want the wetland destroyed.”
The Examiner reached out to Clayton Development for comment, but haven’t heard back as of publication. We contacted the Department of Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing and spokesperson Heather Fairburn sent along this response:
Nova Scotia is facing a housing crisis. This is particularly challenging in the Halifax Regional Municipality where there is a need to increase housing supply at all income levels. Designation removes barriers and will help thousands of people access homes faster.
Developers must comply with municipal requirements and Nova Scotia’s laws and regulations, including environmental regulations – no one gets a pass. Anyone who has evidence of species at risk on this site should report it to NRR so the situation can be assessed. Developers continue to work with HRM planning and projects are subject to any necessary studies, as well as any permitting, fees and regulatory requirements. Together, we can ensure sustainable development that will provide Nova Scotians with the homes they need and protect our environment.