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Hartlen Point – coastal headland at the mouth of Halifax Harbour in a beautiful seaside community

Hartlen Point – coastal headland at the mouth of Halifax Harbour in a beautiful seaside community Posted on February 21, 2023Leave a comment

Know first that I am no expert on anything except maybe birds and dogs. So this is all my opinion, and I have questions I would love to have better answers to. And I am not alone in having many questions.

And we are allowed to ask questions and expect clear answers in a democracy.

I attended a community-led information session last Saturday. Our local Member of Parliament, Darrell Samson, who is also Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, declined the invitation to attend. It seems amazing to me that someone in this position would decline to speak with constituents about a project involving their own department. Maybe I don’t understand how the Canadian government works.

Our local MLA, Barbara Adams, came and spoke with many members of the community and it was much appreciated.

Our Municipal Councillor, Becky Kent, also declined to attend but I believe is working on answers to the many questions residents have surrounding infrastructure concerns for the project. Traffic, flooding, water, sewage, fire and emergency services, etc.

It is a huge problem for me that most of the community consultation by DND has been handled through a high profile PR firm in Ottawa, Prospectus Associates, who also represent Lockheed Martin. How much will taxpayers be on the hook for that? One of many questions indeed.

Anyway, many people in my seaside community of Eastern Passage and surrounding communities believe that Hartlen Point is not the right location for a Land Based Testing Facility to test LRDR (Long Range Discrimination Radar) for Spy 7 systems for the new Canadian Surface Combatants.

The Canadian Surface Combatant: A Backdoor to Ballistic Missile Defence? – Canadian Naval Review

Hartlen Point is a nearly pristine coastal headland at the entrance to Halifax Harbour in the growing seaside community of Eastern Passage and backing onto Cow Bay.

You can see downtown Halifax from Hartlen Point.  It is only a 20-minute drive along a residential speed limit route.  15.7KM to the MacDonald Bridge. 

But it’s hard to see past the oil tanks.  And the sewage treatment plant.  And Autoport.  But if you make it past all that, there is a jewel of an ocean community.

Unless you are going golfing you may never discover this undeveloped HRM coastline.

Fisherman’s Cove is the entrance to our gorgeous seaside vista.

MacCormack’s Beach sunset at Fisherman’s Cove Boardwalk

Honestly, Hartlen Point may be better served as a National Historic site than a golf course, as it houses fortifications from Devil’s Battery. Also golf courses use a lot of water, and golf is a sport of privilege, but I digress.

Fortifications at the top of the Hartlen Point Golf Course overlooking Shore Road photo January 2023

Fisherman’s Cove to Hartlen Point can be done on foot if you want a nice seaside walk, I’ve done it myself.  It’s a 6 minute drive of just over 4KM one direction.  The stretch is frequently birded and used by local Fisherpeople, kayakers, and stand up paddleboarders. Some brave souls even swim along this shore. Admittedly I’ve waded in a bit on hot days.

Locals also know this stretch of Shore Road floods in storms, and is badly eroding so can’t handle the additional traffic required for constructing and staffing an LBTF. As well there are no sidewalks and lots of people walk that stretch with their dogs, or young children.

August dark sky at Hartlen Point

Hartlen Point is also about the closest thing we have in HRM to a dark sky preserve. I was “lightpainting” with a flashlight in this photo so the foreground is lit up but it was a very dark night and it’s a great spot to view the Milky Way. Left of this, you can’t even see the lights of Herring Cove, just blackness.

Conversely, in the morning it boasts an uninterrupted Sea to Sky sunrise.

The land at Hartlen Point is designated by HRM as having cultural and archeological significance with good reason.  Fisherpeople, farmers, and Indigenous peoples have all been part of the history here.  Development and habitat destruction cannot be undone for many lifetimes, if ever. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

At the rate that HRM is growing, green spaces are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Eastern Passage is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada.  Houses were selling in days at $100K over asking all last year.

One of the things that was identified at COP15 in December was that habitat in urban areas is more valuable than habitat in unpopulated areas. 

As a birder and nature photographer this makes so much sense to me.  It’s easy to say the animals will just move along to the next stretch of land but as development becomes more dense there is no where to move to.  And all the land surrounding Hartlen Point is for sale by private developers.  So not very far into the future you might see almost no habitat or coastal access anywhere in Eastern Passage or Cow Bay.  And if Hartlen Point has been developed, what then?

On that note, I do wonder if it’s some type of loophole that the Site Selection criteria said the build could not be near urban areas, and the land in “South East Passage” and Cow Bay are zoned Suburban.

We know that zoning can be changed, and my sneaking suspicion is that as soon as development grows around Hartlen Point it will be zoned urban. 

This shouldn’t matter anyway because, if it’s too dangerous to be near urban areas, how can it be safe next to growing suburban populations?  Hmmm.  Back to my argument this is not an appropriate location for a Land Based Testing Facility testing new technology where mistakes could be made.   

Eastern Passage would be better served by conservation measures.  You need to look ahead also how different it will look in 5 or 10 or 20 years.  Conservation land, tourism, and ecotourism makes more sense for the growing population of Eastern Passage and the greater Halifax Regional Municipality.  This is our capital city, in a province set to double its population in coming years.

Might there not be communities who have appropriate industrial lands set further away from populations who would welcome jobs in their communities?  I have driven every corner of this province many times and think a bit of creativity could yield a better site for this project, while also creating an environmental win at the current location. 

Nobody I speak to is saying the facility should not be built at all, just not at this location. Nobody I know or speak with is anti-military or anti DND. In a democracy we need to be able to discuss what happens on Federal lands. Period.

But it does seem that people are afraid to talk about this subject because the mistaken belief is that Eastern Passage is a military community and people don’t want to speak against the military.  Eastern Passage does have many military members, but the community has many more civilians as it has changed and grown over the years, and our demographics also changed wildly during the pandemic.  We are all friends and neighbours and live together peacefully. 

So that is not what this is about at all. 

But there are other ways we are being pitted against one another.

It feels like a divide and conquer strategy the way consultation has been conducted.

Many individual meetings were held over a period of months with DND staff and were overseen by the PR firm Prospectus.  I attended one myself.  And things I spoke about were brought up at the public meeting in a way that did not impress me much.  OECMs indeed.  Ugghh.

It appears that mitigation has been oversold to narrow focus groups as the only option.

I can’t think for the life of me how you will be walking around with binoculars looking at birds or kayaking while LRDR is being tested.  Sorry I don’t buy it. 

And if DND has given a few people the idea (in writing?) they are building walking trails for people to walk around the facility and shoreline and that testing is only happening once in a while, I say make that public knowledge and give us a more accurate testing schedule. All we’ve been told so far is that “Operation is not expected to run 24/7, but the exact testing schedule is currently unknown. We expect a busy period between 2026 and the mid-2030s.”

If there had been more community and public consultation done when it should have been done instead of meetings with narrow focus groups the build would be proposed at another location I believe. 

One thing I keep hearing is that it either goes to Hartlen Point, or it goes to Osborne Head.  And so we are again communities pitted against one another that are actually pretty much in the same place as the crow files.

In reality neither site is good for the seaside communities of Cow Bay and Eastern Passage and when you look at this you can see there will be disruption at both sites.

Drive up Seahawk Close and tell me how 130+ employees and an 11,500m2 facility would ever be considered for that site anyway?

“ISED does not permit high-power radio emissions within Halifax’s harbour – Irving’s site selection report ruled out Bedford Basin, CFB Halifax and Ferguson’s Cove because ISED’s restrictions would interfere with the DND’s ability to test its combat systems” – the Coast, Feb. 1, 2023

So that really only leaves Hartlen Point.  Was any other location really given worthy consideration or did they just think they could run roughshod over the community of Eastern Passage once again?  And another really big question, why did Irving Shipbuilding Limited prepare the site selection report?  To me that stinks of conflict of interest. Show me why it isn’t, seriously.

You won’t find it in the pamphlet from the community engagement session that was held on January 31, 2023, but we found out in person at the event that the intention is to put a huge septic field in for about 200 people.  Yup that went over like a ton of bricks.

So, if there ends up being no way to move the build, really the only mitigation that makes any sense is giving up some of the golf course as it’s already lost habitat.  And septic and parking lot already there. 

We have been told that “brushing” is supposed to start in March 2023.  But if you look at this scan from the January 31 engagement session pamphlet, don’t you think there are things that should take place in advance of this?  I say it’s time for an immediate injunction/stop work order!

The pamphlet also says, “There is no intent to establish a permanent maritime exclusion zone near-shore.”

What exactly does that mean?  It’s a phrase that seems to be repeated a lot.

Language can be a tricky thing.  Me, I like to read between the lines. 

My question is, what exclusion zones will you be establishing?

Halifax Harbour is a managed vessel zone.  And exclusion zones of any type for DND are taken quite seriously “As the Port of Halifax is an extremely busy and vital Atlantic Coast port, it is in the interest of Vessel Masters and the DND to maintain a safe and free flowing thoroughfare.” From the OPS Port Information Guide May 2019

I really wish I had more answers than questions.  I was told that RF is like your cell phone.  Really, is that what LRDR testing is going to be like? 

To the best of my knowledge, no license has been granted for the RF required for this project in the currently proposed location.

In my opinion we are about a year ahead of ourselves here.  As far as public consultation and transparency is concerned, we just now at the stage we should have been last March 2022.

Nobody wants to tell us what the actual exclusion sites will be.  Nobody wants to give clear public information about access. 

And that language thing again.  What I hear is the access will be determined by the needs of the project, and the safety of our employees. 

So what that says to me when I read between the lines is good luck getting near Hartlen Point for the next 20 years.

And if that is not true, well then the information sessions have frankly not been very informational.

Every day I speak with people in this community that have zero idea what is going on.

Last week I spoke with a business owner at Fisherman’s Cove who had no idea had never heard a peep.

The few people who do have some idea of what is going on are practically being led to believe that the Canadian Navy will fail unless we destroy biodiversity on a nearly pristine headland and cut a growing seaside community off from the jewel of Halifax Harbour. Please. Look at some other sites, not just one.

Injunction.  Indeed. Move the build. Let’s find a way to win on all fronts, not destroy one goal for another. Nova Scotia is a big province, get creative! Oh Canada!

Click here for some more of my photos from Hartlen Point that I’ve taken over the past 8 years.

Please sign the Protect Hartlen Point Petition

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