Reality Bites provides the best coverage of current affairs and political issues related to Halifax and City Council anywhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Oh, and we bring the snark, too. Contact jacob@thecoast.ca to send a tip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Enviro groups protest appointment of paper company exec to forestry review panel

Posted By on Wed, Jul 29, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Press release from the Ecology Action Centre:
Nova Scotia’s two largest environmental groups are objecting strongly to the appointment by the government of a senior executive from the Bowater Mersey Paper Company to a supposedly fair and objective review panel in a critical stage of the Province’s arms-length Natural Resources Strategy review process. Citing a clear and obvious conflict of interest, Ecology Action Centre and Sierra Club of Canada – Atlantic Canada Chapter are calling on the government to immediately rescind the appointment of Jonathan Porter to the Forest Review panel. The appointments were recommended by a steering panel chaired by former Chief Justice Constance Glube. (see http://www.gov.ns.ca/news/details.asp?id=20090723004).

“Nova Scotians were promised a fair and unbiased public review of Natural Resource management in this province and this is not it” says Raymond Plourde, Wilderness Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre. “Although we mean no offence to Mr. Porter it is simply inappropriate for an executive from one of the major pulp mills – and one of the biggest clear-cutting companies in the province - to participate in the process as a major stakeholder in Phase One and then turn around and be expected to be a fair and unbiased adjudicator in Phase Two. It is outrageous. The conflict of interest is built-in and obvious. There is no way Mr. Porter can separate the interests of his company from the broader public interest. If not corrected the whole strategy will loose public credibility. We are respectfully calling on the minister to fix this mistake immediately.”

The Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act legislates that a new Natural Resources strategy be put in place by 2010, with environmental sustainability a key objective. A rather long and complicated three- phase, arms-length process was developed to accomplish this with an emphasis on public and stakeholder engagement. Thousands of people from across the province participated in the first phase led by Voluntary Planning. At the top of the list of public concerns was the amount of forest clear-cutting by industrial forestry companies. In its final report the Voluntary Planning Committee found that “the current approach to natural resource management is not sustainable.” And that “the status quo is not an option”. It further stated that “Nova Scotians made it clear that change must happen in all areas of natural resource management – and happen soon” and that “There was general consensus that… the new forestry strategy must include a transition away from clear-cutting and toward less environmentally disruptive harvesting methods”. (see http://gov.ns.ca/govt/vp/NaturalResourcesReport.pdf)

“We participated in this process in good faith – along with thousands of other Nova Scotians – in hopes that we could rescue our forests and forestry industry from a history of over 90% clear-cutting,” notes Gretchen Fitzgerald, Director of the Sierra Club Canada – Atlantic Canada Chapter. “The appointment of a major forestry industry executive with an obvious interest in preserving the status quo to a panel that is supposed to evaluate without prejudice submissions from all stakeholders shakes our confidence in this process.”

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Council's disaster tourism

Mayor Peter Kelly, Carl Yates of the Water Commission and plant manager Rory MacNeil tour the wastewater plant

Posted By on Wed, Jul 22, 2009 at 9:51 PM

Last Friday, city officials gave reporters a tour of the Halifax Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was the first public look at the plant since if failed the morning of January 14. The tour was led by mayor Peter Kelly, Carl Yates of the Water Commission and plant manager Rory MacNeil (pictured above). Councillor Jerry Blumenthal was also present.

In this photo, MacNeil stands before one of the plant boilers, which along with the electrical control room were submerged completely in sewage in January. The most expensive equipment lost in the plant failure, however, were five submersible pumps 85 feet down a wet well; the pumps are designed to be under water, and yet for some as-yet inexplicable reason, no longer operate.

A video of the tour, and more explanation will be posted later today.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What the sewage plant press release misses

The real reason why the city won't release the forensic audit

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 6:33 AM

sewage_plant.jpg
I'm at the start of my vacation, but I find it necessary to first make a point about the press release the city issued yesterday concerning the sewage plant (see previous post.)

The press release blames a back-up generator, and other media seem to be jumping on that explanation as the cause of the failure. They're wrong.

The failure on the generators was merely the proximate cause of the failure, but doesn't explain why we are without a sewer plant for over a year. See, the plant should have been idiot proof---that is, no matter what combination of stupid mistakes, bad luck and acts of a vengeful god conspired to bring down the plant, it should have been designed in such a way that it would be impossible to flood out the equipment.

As I explained in last week's feature, that means a passive---meaning no moving parts, no machinery--- a passive bypass should have been built at the top of the well. And there was no bypass in the plant. This is a fundamental, bone-headed, design error.

Think of the bypass as the holes just below the rim of your bathroom sink---you accidentally leave the stopper down in the drain, and the sink fills up, but rather than flow over the top of the sink and onto your floor, destroying your woodwork and flooding the rest of the house, the water instead goes through the holes, and down the drain safely.

Likewise, as sewage filled the well at the sewage plant, instead of flowing out over the top and drowning the equipment in the basement, it should have gone through a bypass, right to the tail pipe of the plant itself, out to the harbour. We're talking about a 20-metre long segment of pipe, is all. Not rocket science.

Had there been a bypass, the plant still would have failed, but safely so, without destroying all the equipment in the basement. The problem could have then been identified, and the plant put back to working relatively quickly---not in a year and a half.

Until I see otherwise, I'm convinced that this design error is precisely why the city is not releasing the full forensic audit.

Now, on to vacation. I'll follow-up on this as I find time.

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