Transport Canada begins process to rescind approval for Dartmouth Cove infill

Transport Canada has started the process to rescind its approval for the Dartmouth Cove infill, a project that faced  major opposition from a neighbourhood group, the local councillor and the member of Parliament for the area.

Darren Fisher, the Liberal MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, announced the move in a Facebook post on Wednesday afternoon and Transport Canada confirmed it to CBC News hours later.

"This is a win for our community, but Dartmouth Cove isn't protected, yet," Fisher said in his post. "As we saw with the Northwest Arm, a municipal bylaw is the best way to protect Dartmouth Cove from unnecessary infill projects today and into the future."

Fisher was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday.

The project would involve dumping 100,000 cubic metres of rock, such as pyritic slate from construction sites around Halifax.

Jill Brogan with Friends of Dartmouth Cove, which wants infilling restrictions in the area, said she's excited about Transport Canada's decision.

Brogan said infilling would shrink an already-small cove, would undo all of the ecological improvements made over the last 20 years and would potentially have disrupted the walking trail between the Woodside and Alderney Landing ferries.

"We still have to keep the foot on the gas pedal to make sure that HRM does do what they said they would do with the motion last evening to bring in bylaws so that the city can exert its authority over pre-Confederation water lots," Brogan said. "And that'll give the protection to not only Dartmouth Cove, but other pre-Confederation water lots that are in the harbour."

Sam Austin, the Halifax regional councillor for Dartmouth Centre, has been critical of the Dartmouth Cove infilling proposal. On Tuesday, he asked the mayor to write a letter to Transport Canada asking for the federal department to rescind its approval. He's happy with the news.

"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for everybody to get this right. You don't get many chances to do a do-over in politics and this is exactly that. So I think there's a chance here for the feds and the municipality to actually work together to fix this," Austin told CBC News.

He said one of his biggest concerns with the proposed infilling in Dartmouth Cove is that there was no set plan on what to do with the infilled area once it was complete.

"The community deserves better than to have it used as a dump site, and then the resulting rocky moonscape sits there for years and years," he said.

The proposed site for infilling comprises a sizeable portion of the shoreline area.
The proposed site for infilling comprises a sizeable portion of the shoreline area. (Google Maps)

A 2022 report from Halifax staff noted pyritic slate, which underlies much of the Halifax area, releases acid when it is exposed to oxygen. Keeping it piled on land is environmentally dangerous, as runoff washes acid into streams and rivers where it can kill fish and contaminate groundwater.

Submerging pyritic slate in the sea "greatly reduces its exposure to oxygen, which is involved in the chemical reaction that produces the acid," the report noted. "Seawater is naturally alkaline, which helps neutralize any acid that is produced."

Atlantic Road Construction and Paving, the civil construction firm behind the project, said the infilling would create land for future development.

'We're kind of in shock'

It also said the project would convert a contaminated zone into fish habitat that would support efforts to resurrect the ecosystem of a nearby river.

Bruce Wood, Atlantic Road Construction's chief financial officer, told CBC News he heard from Transport Canada hours after Fisher's post.

"At this point, we're kind of in shock. We spent two years on this file and the staff at the Department of Transport produced a 300-page document and we thought they did a really good job of the work they've completed," Wood told CBC News.

A sign from a neighbourhood group opposed to infilling at Dartmouth Cove in Halifax harbour is shown Monday, May 13, 2024.
A sign from a neighbourhood group opposed to infilling at Dartmouth Cove in Halifax harbour is shown on Monday, May 13, 2024. (Richard Cuthbertson/CBC)

"And then, at this point for an MP like Darren Fisher — who I think is more concerned about his seat in the next election — to be able to put his hand up and the minister turns around and calls into question all the work their staff has done on this file over the last two years, we're very surprised by that."

Wood said the report from Transport Canada staff was thorough and complete. He said the company was looking to remediate an area that has "suffered environmental abuses."

Despite the setback, he said Atlantic Road Construction will continue to try to get the project off the ground. He said Transport Canada rescinding its approval restarts the consultation process.

COVE case

"I think now we have a better understanding ourselves of how this project is going to take shape and the positive environmental impacts it's going to have, so I think we're going to do a better job of bringing that forward," Wood said.

In May, the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship, also known as COVE, said it was taking the transport minister to court after the department approved the proposal.

COVE warned in its court filings that some research operations could be forced to stop if the proposal was allowed to go ahead. Transport Canada told CBC News it had conceded on the application for judicial review.

Upon hearing Transport Canada would be rescinding its approval of the project, COVE told CBC News in an email on Thursday it will "continue to work with relevant agencies and parties involved to ensure a positive outcome as it relates to Dartmouth Cove."