Kjipuktuk (Halifax) - The Ecology Action Centre and concerned citizens of the ‘Protect the Northwest Arm’ group are calling for a moratorium on infilling in the Northwest Arm of Halifax until there is adequate governance over approvals including a review to assess the environmental consequences of this practice.
On May 27, 2021 the EAC and the group of concerned citizens filed a formal request asking Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change to study cumulative effects of infilling on the Arm’s ecology, navigation and shorelines.
“There is a real sense of urgency around this issue because infill materials and construction impact fish and fish habitats, the coastline, water quality and navigation in the Arm,” said Nancy Anningson, coastal adaptation senior coordinator with EAC. “If every property eligible actually infilled, it would result in the loss of 30 per cent of the water surface of the Northwest Arm and narrow the entrance by more than 50 per cent.”
According to Anningson, on June 22, 2021, another application was filed to infill a large privately-owned water lot on the Northwest Arm as well.
Infills are the act of extending private land by placing fill material into water lots which are deeded to the owner of adjacent land. With rising sea levels and more intense and more frequent weather events, infilling into natural ecosystems impairs their natural ability to buffer wave energy and withstand coastal climate change.
“With so much less water surface available after infills, the narrowing of the Arm will mean hazards for boating and recreational activities on the Arm,” explains Anningson. “We also know that lobster and fish spawning habitats will be destroyed. Infilling projects cause contamination both in their construction and from the infill materials.”
This is not the first-time infilling has been problematic along the Arm. In 2007 Halifax strengthened its land use by-laws to more rigorously restrict the use of infilled land. Unfortunately, this did not prevent unnecessary infilling and has even resulted in costly litigation as landowners test those bylaws. The same governance gap continues to exist today, preventing appropriate assessment of the environmental impact of infill projects along the Arm. This problem will continue to emerge until adequate review of infill applications is put in place.
“The problem is that there is a regulatory gap with infilling in the Arm. Municipal and provincial governments have no jurisdiction over the infill decision,” says Anningson. “Right now, it’s Transport Canada making the decision under the considerations of the Navigable Waters Act. This legislation does not address environmental impacts from infilling.”
Since May 12, 2021 more than 1,150 signatures have been collected on a petition on infilling in the Northwest Arm.