Neighbours and environmentalists hoping that Ottawa would take a second look at plans for a 93,000-square-metre military testing facility at the edge of Eastern Passage are left looking for other avenues. Late last week, the federal Impact Assessment Agency of Canada rejected the group’s request to designate the Department of National Defence’s $129-million Hartlen Point project for further review.
The project—which will see the DND build a two-storey, 11,500-square-metre warehouse and office building to test its future warship fleet’s systems in what critics argue is a vital biodiversity hotspot—is too far underway to stop, the IAAC argues.
Canada’s military officials see Hartlen Point as “critical” to testing the combat and navigational capacities of its soon-to-be-built Canadian Surface Combatant ships. Ottawa is spending upwards of $84.5 billion on the 15 vessels, described as Canada’s “major surface component of maritime combat power.” But the plan to test those ships’ functions at Hartlen Point has been met with opposition by those who live, fish and hike nearby.
Members of Protect Hartlen Point, a group of roughly 20,000 Eastern Passage residents, environmentalists, birders, surfers, lobster fishers and others concerned about the DND’s plans filed a request with federal environment minister Steven Guilbeault in March, calling on the minister to designate the project for additional review. They argue the DND’s environmental reports have been insufficient. The DND, for its part, claims that it’s already studied potential impacts on wetlands, birds, bats and soil.
Protect Hartlen Point’s members had been hopeful that their appeal would find an audience with Guilbeault, given their concerns about bird habitat loss, potential added fire risk from drying wetlands and the DND project’s growing scope: In two years, it has expanded from a $65-million project to $129 million, and from a 9,000-square-metre facility to an overall project footprint of 92,810 square metres.
In an email to Protect Hartlen Point members on July 6, 2023, however, IAAC president Terence Hubbard writes that the reviewing authority the members had hoped for doesn’t apply in this case, because development on the site has already “substantially begun.” The DND began clearing trees and brush from the site in March. At the time, a DND spokesperson told The Coast that the tree-removal window was chosen to “avoid the bird and bat breeding and migratory windows.”
(The military’s Environmental Effects Determination Report, which summarizes potential harmful impacts of the site’s construction and steps to mitigate those impacts, notes that existing trees and vegetation “will be maintained to the extent possible,” and that new trees and native plants “will be planted onsite.”)
In an email to The Coast, Halifax resident and Protect Hartlen Point member Karen Robb writes that she’s “disappointed” with the decision, but not finished with her efforts.
A spokesperson for the DND says that the department wants to “reassure everyone that respect of the environment and wildlife is a top priority for DND,” and that it continues to work with both Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans “to ensure construction is undertaken responsibly and with full adherence to environmental legislation and guidelines.”