News

1. Oil spill

Photo: Halifax Examiner

Friday morning, I criticized Nova Scotia Power (NSP) for its press release related to the oil spill from the Tufts Cove Generating Plant. The press release called it a “limited” spill; I wrote:

“Limited” is PR spin. Every oil spill is “limited” in some sense — the Deepwater Horizon spill that destroyed the Gulf of Mexico fisheries was limited, as it could have been even bigger and still be gushing to this day.

This annoys me. It shouldn’t be the job of PR professionals to spin the public’s perception of an oil spill. If they couldn’t quantify the amount of oil spilled, they should have issued a factual press release that simply said there was an oil leak and outlined the company’s efforts to contain it. I’ll leave it to outside agencies and experts to assess the level of damage.

Later in the day Friday, Nova Scotia Power issued a second press release, but still didn’t state the amount of oil spilled, or even what kind of oil it was. It did, however, relate the source of the spill:

The leak was discovered in an exterior pipe that runs from the onsite storage tanks into the facility by staff during a routine inspection.

On Sunday, Susan Bradley, reporting for the CBC, had a bit more info:

[NSP spokesperson David Rhodenizer] said an environmental contractor estimated “less than 5,000 litres would have made it to the harbour” and the company expected to have a better assessment of how long the cleanup will take by Tuesday or Wednesday.

I’m not buying it. One thing we know from the long history of reporting on oil spills is that the company responsible almost always underestimates or otherwise diminishes the extent of spills. And NSP first called the spill “limited,” and then relied on an unnamed contractor to say that “less than 5,000 litres” of oil made it into the water. So how much was spilled in total? We aren’t told.

But what if it is 5,000 litres? Is that a lot, or a little? How do we know?

By way of comparison, in 2016 the Department of National Defence was fined $100,000 for a 2013 incident when HMCS St. John’s spilled 9,000 litres of diesel fuel into the harbour. And in 2014, the DND was “fined $1 and ordered to donate $27,500 to environmental research efforts” for a 14,000-litre spill from HMCS Preserver.

Yesterday, I went to the Dartmouth waterfront to check out the oil myself. I found an oily sheen on the water, and blobs of oil on rocks along the shoreline:

Photo: Halifax Examiner

The oil was sticky to the touch, and thick, almost glue-like:

As well, seaweed and oysters were covered with oil. There were two boats working, apparently cleaning up oil, but they were too distant for me to make sense of the operation. I heard what sounded like a flare shot, or a blank fired from a firearm, and saw a worker walking along the power plant pier; I’m guessing that he was scaring off waterfowl.

When I returned home, I called David Rhodenizer, the NSP spokesperson. He told me that he didn’t know the total volume of oil spilled, but he said it was Heavy Fuel Oil No. 6.

It should be a relatively simple matter of comparing stored fuel levels before and after the spill to get an idea of the total volume spilled, but maybe Nova Scotia Power has Halifax Transit-like problems knowing how much oil is on site.

As for the kind of fuel, here’s what the (U.S.) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has to say about Heavy Fuel Oil No. 6 spills:

No. 6 fuel oil is a dense, viscous oil produced by blending heavy residual oils with a lighter oil (often No. 2 fuel oil) to meet specifications for viscosity and pour point. When spilled on water, No. 6 fuel usually spreads into thick, dark-colored slicks, which can contain large amounts of oil. The most viscous no. 6 oils will often break up into discrete patches and tarballs when spilled instead of forming slicks. Oil recovery by skimmers and vacuum pumps can be very effective when early in the spill. Very little of this viscous oil is likely to disperse into the water column.

Characteristics of No. 6 Fuel oil (Bunker C) Spills

No. 6 fuel oil is a persistent oil; only 5-10% is expected to evaporate within the first hours of a spill. Consequently, the oil can be carried hundreds of miles in the form of scattered tarballs by winds and currents. The tarballs will vary in diameter from several yards to a few inches and may be very difficult to detect visually or with remote sensing techniques.

The specific gravity of a particular No. 6 fuel oil can vary from 0.95 to greater than 1.03. (The specific gravity of seawater is 1.03.) Thus, spilled oil can float, suspend in the water column, or sink. Small changes in water density may dictate whether the oil will sink or float.

Floating oil in a high sediment environment (rivers, beaches) could potentially sink once it picks up sediment, resulting in subsurface tarballs or tarmats.

These oils can occasionally form an emulsion, but usually only slowly and after a period of days.Because of its high viscosity, beached oil tends to remain on the surface rather than penetrate sediments. Light accumulations usually form a “bathtub ring” at the high-tide line; heavy accumulations can pool on the beach.

Shoreline cleanup can be very effective before the oil weathers and becomes very sticky and viscous.

Effects on Wildlife and Plants

Adverse effects of floating No. 6 fuel oil are related primarily to coating of wildlife dwelling on the water surface, smothering of intertidal organisms, and long-term sediment contamination. No. 6 fuel oil is not expected to be as acutely toxic to water column organisms as lighter oils, such as No. 2 fuel oil.

Direct mortality rates can be high for seabirds, waterfowl, and fur-bearing marine mammals, especially where populations are concentrated in small areas, such as during bird migrations or marine mammal haulouts.

Direct mortality rates are generally less for shorebirds because they rarely enter the water. Shorebirds, which feed in intertidal habitats where oil strands and persists, are at higher risk of sublethal effects from either contaminated or reduced population of prey.

The most important factors determining the impacts of No. 6 fuel oil contamination on marshes are the extent of oiling on the vegetation and the degree of sediment contamination from the spill or disturbance from the cleanup. Many plants can survive partial oiling; fewer survive when all or most of the above-ground vegetation is coated with heavy oil. However, unless the substrate is heavily oiled, the roots often survive and the plants can re-grow.

I went to the southern end of the spill zone yesterday, accessing the waterfront from a trail that leads down from the end of Nivens Avenue. This area is rocky coastline, with what appears to be fill used to support the railroad line along the coast. There are no sandy beaches. I didn’t observe any birds in the contaminated water, nor did I see any dead fish or other wildlife.

The northern end of the spill zone is on the other side of the power plant, in Tufts Cove itself, butting up against the Shannon Park land. My recollection is that there is some marshland/wetland in the Cove; I don’t know if the spill reached those wetlands or not.

2. Is tidal power dead in the water?

Photo: Cape Sharpe Tidal

Some $36.2 million in public money has been spent on tidal development in Nova Scotia. But with the sudden collapse of OpenHydro, the only firm to have successfully deployed tidal turbines in the Minas Basin, reports Jennifer Henderson, questions remain:

While there is consensus among researchers and provincial officials that the collapse of OpenHydro is a major setback, nobody seems to want to have a frank discussion about the prospect that the dream could be over.

Interestingly, Henderson found a 2015 academic paper written by none other than University of King’s College president Bill Lahey, who questioned the economic viability of tidal power in Nova Scotia.

Click here to read “Is tidal power dead in the water?”

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3. Prisons, Refugees, Cats

El Jones promoted her latest column on Facebook as follows:

Minor issues: this post talks about what the Airbnb in Dorchester says about our grappling with prisoner rights, and I also look at how the poll question about the refugee “crisis” reveals bias in how these questions are asked and how they are reported.

VERY SERIOUS ISSUE: I disagree with a list of good cat names.

Click here to read “Prisons, Refugees, Cats.”

You don’t have to be a subscriber to read that, but you could subscribe anyway to help the Examiner pay El’s outrageous bonus for click-bait kitty videos.

4. City Hall’s Sunshine List

Amanda Whitewood. Photo: Groupe CNW/CPA Canada

The city has published its “Sunshine List” of employees making more than $100,000 in the 2017/19 fiscal year.

There are 893 people on the list. The highest compensation — a total of $279,201.12 — went to Amanda Whitewood, the former Director of Finance who left her City Hall job for a job at the IWK after receiving “a bizarre and lengthy text message” from CAO Jacques Dubé “that included foul language and violent imagery about murdering someone who likes winter.” As Whitewood’s salary for that period was just $23,033.15 and her benefits were just $1,167.97, the balance of exactly $250,000 appears to be a settlement payout.

Bob Bjerke. Photo: Twitter

The next highest on the list are Dubé himself ($273,852.67); city solicitor John Traves ($239,275.51); Anthony Spinelli, the project director for the Cogswell redevelopment ($217,350.12); and Bob Bjerke, the former director of planning who was abruptly fired in August 2017, just four months into the fiscal year, but who seems to have been paid his full annual compensation of $214,255.81.

Nearly half — 444 — of those on the Sunshine List are cops. Here’s the breakdown of number of employees by department:

CAO’s office (including the mayor): 4
Corporate and Customer Services: 22
Finance and Asset Management: 11
Fire Services: 338
Halifax Transit: 10
Human Resources: 7
Legal, Municipal Clerk, and External Affairs: 21
Office of the Auditor General: 3
Parks and Recreation: 13
Planning and Development: 10
Police: 444
Transportation and Public Works: 10

There’s a large representation by cops and firefighters because both jobs are hard to restrict to normal working hours — a firefighter won’t clock out in mid-medical emergency, for example — and because it’s deemed less expensive to pay overtime than to expand the number of employees, which results in all sorts of training and equipment costs over and above salary.

I don’t begrudge these civil servants their relatively (to mine) large salaries. A hundred thousand dollars ain’t what it used to be, and besides, most public employees are dedicated and work hard. They earn their pay.

What I do have a problem with is that the same city that pays 893 people over $100,000 annually then turns around and contracts out janitorial and other positions to get around paying those employees a living wage that is still comparatively puny — around $20/hour. Instead, those contracted employees are making minimum ($11/hour) or near-minimum wage — in other words, poverty wages.

It is obscene that 893 city employees make more than $100,000 annually and yet janitors cleaning city buildings must work second and third jobs in order to feed their kids.

Simple fairness and basic human decency demand that the city adopt a living wage ordinance.

5. Donham v Rankin

Following up on his post in which he criticized Chronicle Herald reporter Andrew Rankin for Rankin’s reporting on the death of 17-year-old Joneil Hanna in Leitches Creek, Parker Donham writes:

Brian Ward, managing editor of the Halifax Chronicle Herald, has asked me to correct two statements about reporter Andrew Rankin in my August 2 post about the fatal prom night car accident in Leitches Creek. Rankin’s one-sided reports falsely portrayed 21-year-old Hayden Laffin as having been drunk June 10 when his car struck and killed 17-year-old Joneil Hanna. Rankin’s reporting fuelled a social media firestorm, including threats against the Laffin family. Police say their investigation proved Laffin was not impaired.

First off, Ward writes that I “named and defamed Rankin and made no attempt to talk with him.” I agree I should have contacted Andrew, and I apologize for this lapse. I don’t think Ward’s other complaints stand up to scrutiny, but readers can judge for themselves.

Donham gets into the details of the complaints at the link.

I should note that Brian Ward also contacted me to complain that I had linked to Donham’s post and reposted his criticism of Rankin. I didn’t comment on that criticism, but Ward felt I shouldered some responsibility for Donham’s comments. I told Ward I’d be happy to publish his full responses to Donham, but Ward declined because it was private communication — a position I understand and respect, but I was left wondering what to do, exactly.

As I’ve said before, Leitches Creek is too distant for me to report on myself. I haven’t seen any of the police reports, have interviewed no one, and don’t know the community or the geography surrounding the fatal collision. In fact, I ignored the issue until Donham started complaining about Rankin’s reporting, because media criticism is something I pay attention to.

Which is to say, readers can make their own decisions about this story.

It does, however, remind me of the Clayton Miller case. There is evidently much disdain for police investigations in Cape Breton. I have no idea if that is warranted or not.

6. Privacy

“A Timberlea, N.S., man is questioning Canadian Tire’s collection of personal information after he says he was told he must provide his vehicle permit and insurance before the business would change a tire,” reports Yvonne Colbert:

Dan MacDonald went to the Bayers Lake Canadian Tire in Halifax last week to get his tire changed.

He left without the work being done after he said he was asked for his vehicle permit and proof of insurance. He refused and said he was told by the woman behind the counter, “If you want to get your tire changed, that’s what you’re going to have to do.”

There seems to be data collection creep. I bought a pair of shoes over the weekend and the clerk wanted my email address. No way am I going to facilitate the company spamming me, I told her. Worse are the stores that ask for postal codes, probably to better target flyer advertising; postal codes are pretty specific — mine has just seven houses in it — and that’s far more information than I want to give to some unaccountable megacorp.

7. Heat and fire

A fire map of northern California.

Reports Alex Cooke for the Canadian Press:

Halifax has had over two straight weeks of days with a maximum temperature of 25 degrees — shattering the previous record set in 1876 — as well as a 41-day run with a maximum temperature of over 21 degrees, which is the longest streak ever recorded.

I enjoy the warm weather, but even I find it a bit disconcerting, especially as I watch my old stomping grounds in northern California burn up like never before.

But our pension funds are invested in the tar sands, so there’s nothing we can do, right?

8. Speed

An RCMP release from yesterday morning:

Prior to 12 p.m. on August 4 [Saturday], RCMP Northwest Traffic Services of Amherst were conducting radar enforcement on Highway 104 in the Thomson Station area. There was heavy traffic on the Trans Canada due to the long weekend. As one officer was travelling east on Highway 104 they observed two vehicles travelling west bound at a high rate of speed. It appeared that these two vehicles were racing. The officer locked in one of the vehicles travelling at 159 km/hr in a 110 km/hr zone. The 29-year-old man from Lakeside, Nova Scotia, was driving a 2010 Acura CSX. He was issued a ticket for speeding with a fine of $410.00.

A second officer was parked in a turn-around in the median nearby and locked in the second vehicle travelling at a speed of 232 km/hr in a 110 Km/hr zone. A 19-year-old man from Quebec, who was driving a 2003 Infiniti G35, was charged for Stunting under the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act. The fine for stunting in Nova Scotia is $2,422.50. The driver’s licence was suspended and the vehicle was seized.

If they were racing, the guy in the Infiniti was clearly winning.

I wonder how the arrest went down. I mean, did the second officer go from parked to overtaking a car driving 232 km/hr? Because that’s pretty amazing.


Government

City

Tuesday

Halifax and West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda; there doesn’t appear to be anything hugely controversial on it.

Wednesday

No public meetings.

Province

No public meetings this week.


On campus

Dalhousie

Tuesday

Thesis Defence, Molecular Biology (Tuesday, 9:30am, Room C264, Collaborative Health Education Building) — Sarah Shah will defend her thesis, “The Genome of Blastocystis sp. Isolated from the Oriental Cockroach.” Bring your own cockroach.

Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Tuesday, 10am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — PhD candidate Maali Alabdulhafith will defend her ​​thesis, “Design and Usability Testing of a Near Field Communication-Based Bedside Medication Administration and Clinical Communication System.”

Thesis Defence, Biology (Tuesday, 10:30am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Ivan Vera-Escalona will defend his ​​thesis, “On the Importance of the Study of Past Connectivity to Understand Present and Future Patterns in a Freshwater Fish.”

Wednesday

Thesis Defence, Pathology (Wednesday, 9:30am, Room 3107, The Mona Campbell Building) — PhD candidate Wasundara Fernando will defend her ​​thesis, “In Vitro and Pre-Clinical Evaluation of Anti-Metastatic Activity of Phloridzin Docosahexaenoate (Pz-Dha) Versus Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.”

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

Organ Recital (Tuesday, 7pm, Saint Mary’s Basilica, 5221 Spring Garden Road) — whaddayaknow, the newish SMU prez, Robert Summerby-Murray, plays the organ and will be fingering the Casavant Frères Opus 2570 pipe organ over at Saint Mary’s Cathedral. “He will explore the links between early 20th century English traditions (Stanford, Parry, Darke) and their exposition in Canada through the works of Willan, Daley and others,” says the event listing. If you’ve got five bucks, drop it in the box. Maybe light a candle for someone too.


In the harbour

0:30am: MOL Partner, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
5:30am: Morning Christina, car carrier, arrives at Pier 27 from Southampton, England
6am: AS Felicia, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from Miami
7am: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Pier 36 from Saint-Pierre
2:30pm: Atlantic Huron, bulker, arrives at National Gypsum from Charlottetown
3:30pm: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
4:30pm: AS Felicia, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
5pm: Asian Sun, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for sea


Footnotes

Stephen Kimber is on vacation. He’ll return next week.

Tim Bousquet

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

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  1. Further to the Sunshine List. I am surprised at the lack of response here and elsewhere to what appear to be costly departures by two senior administrators (directors of finance and planning). If something like this happened at the provincial level there’d likely be major political fallout.

  2. There are oysters growing in Tufts cove!?

    Of course it was an Acura racing a G35. Bros gonna bro, bro.

  3. Regarding sunshine lists, I was shocked to recently learn that in 2015 there were 111 Acadia staff reaping more than $100k annually…which seemed disproportionately high for a small undergraduates university which receives an inordinate amount of public funding and international alumni donations. I don’t know what percentage were professors, however, I do know that custodial staff wages are not on the sunny.side of the list and most of the names and positions appeared to be executive and administrative. The chasm between poverty and wealth is ever increasing.

  4. Having worked in oil spill response, I am sorry to say that the standard operating procedure is to downplay the effects of whatever was spilled. Bunker C which is what we saw from Tufts Cove is very persistent and unless physically removed can remain trapped by sediment or on the beach for years. It is bad,nasty stuff and it is irresponsible to let the polluter try to make it sound like it was no big deal.

  5. “that included foul language and violent imagery about murdering someone who likes winter.”
    We may have a Grinch in our midst!

  6. I would like to know what Mom and Dad thought about that 19-year-old driver getting their car impounded.

  7. You could argue that even though it is more expensive to hire more police and firefighters to reduce overtime than to just pay the overtime in the first place, it is also more expensive to pay janitors more than market rates for janitorial work. If we had more police officers and firefighters working less overtime, there would be more people earning a decent amount of money.

    I am also skeptical of any sort of scheme that proposes to make the working poor richer by paying them more or giving them universal basic income because landlords and other ogliopolies can capture so much of the income of everyone below a certain income level. For example, in the United States this manifests itself in the way that some slum lords get rich by primarily housing people with Section 8 housing vouchers – because the tenant only has to pay 30% of their income, in practice this means the rent can be raised to the limits allowed by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because it will only ever be 30% of the tenant’s income. This policy makes some people very rich, but it is a disaster for everyone else because of the inflation in housing costs it produces.

    Similarly, in Canada, it is my belief that the purpose of our immigration policy is to keep the housing market tight to attempt to stave off an eventual revaluation of the housing market, which would be a disaster for “the economy” but would be great for actual workers. Of course this is not the official reason for our immigration policy, but if you want to know what something is for, it is better to look at what it does rather than what people say it does.

    1. To be clear I am not against welfare programs or other means by which income is redistributed downwards. But we need to consider the way that broad systemic policies – most of which are national and provincial issues not municipal ones – have produced so much inequality. The property market – which sucks up so much of the income of the bottom 50% of our society is one such example. Unless the issue of housing costs is addressed, all that income redistribution programs do is flatten most people into one class of permanent renters or people with 30 year mortgages. A good example of this is the Scandinavian welfare states: Although there is lots of income inequality in those countries, everyone is in massive amounts of housing debt because of the way the welfare system inflates housing prices.

      We need to look more seriously at taxing wealth rather than income.

      1. Did you mean “everyone isn’t” in massive amounts of housing debt in Scandinavian countries ?

        1. Sweden in particular has very high levels of household debt. Perhaps I should have specified which country in Scandinavia.

      2. I too would love to see wealth taxed rather than income. Morneau/trudeau may have lots of wealth but are able to minimize their income. They’ve made incorporated physicians with -high debt/no wealth/above average income- out to be the tax cheats.

        Also regarding immigration. I’ve always seen it as a way to deal with out negative birth rate. If we were to incentivize pregnancy/parenthood so it’s just as appealing to college students and young professionals as it is to high school dropouts we might get the population growth we need (France does this and has a much higher birth rate than us). Since these are unpopular concepts/ideas we rely on recruiting our population internationally.

        1. Incentivizing people to have kids isn’t as popular with govt/corporate leaders because in our culture it takes 20 years to turn a baby into a worker which is a bad deal compared to a 20 year old from somewhere else who can get here in 16 hours. I agree that a modest population growth rate is essential and if it does not happen organically immigration is the solution. However I am extremely frustrated by the way our national discussion on immigration has been perverted – there are perfectly reasonable reasons why one might want less immigration to Canada and they have nothing to do with bigotry.

          Why is it that my best friend growing up has the same job one of my grandfathers did, but my grandfather supported a stay at home wife and 2 kids, owned a home and could afford to make a few trips with the family back to Europe but my friend can barely afford rent and a car? They arrived here after WW2 barely speaking English or French…

          Interestingly, surveys of women in Europe, Asia and Africa reveal a preference for 2-2.5 kids, corresponding to a moderate pace of population growth.