Kimber's Nova Scotia (July 22, 2007)

Kimber’s Nova Scotia

July 22, 2007

Quarry queries open ‘black hole’

Nobody, it seems, is happy with progress on a proposal to develop a quarry near North Mountain in the Annapolis Valley.

Granville Centre residents wrote a letter to Bruce Spicer, whose Bridgetown construction company is behind the project. While he did reply to their initial letter, they claim he didn’t answer all their questions. But that’s more satisfaction than they got from either the department of environment or local MLA Stephen McNeil, neither of whom responded at all.

“There’s this black hole,” says local resident Jacquie Martin.

But Bruce Spicer isn’t happy either. While he says his company wasn’t required to seek public input, it took out an ad in the local newspaper, inviting questions from residents. But many of the questions turned out to be “ridiculous,” he says. “They’re asking us about highway issues and, ‘what about the mailman?’”

Worse, he says, “we’re being lumped in with the Bilcons.” Bilcon is the American company behind a controversial 120-hectare quarry proposal for Digby Neck. It wants to scoop up two million tons of rock a year from the site for the next 50 years and ship it to rock-hungry New Jersey. “We’re talking about supporting the local economy,” Spicer insists of his less than 10-hectare project.

Spicer’s not much happier with the department of labour and environment — and not only because the approval process is now three-months-and-counting. He says he’s been trying to arrange a public meeting with officials from the department, but has gotten the impression the province would prefer to hold its own meeting with residents.

Residents like Fred Martin say they want Environment Minister Mark Parent to order a full site survey and environmental assessment to determine the quarry’s potential impact on everything from noise, to dust, to wetlands, to tourism.

“In a way, we don’t know what to be afraid of,” says Fred Martin.

Which may be why they’re afraid of everything.

This week’s ER closure alerts…

Nova Scotia’s ongoing rural doctor shortage has prompted yet more emergency room closures. Roseway Hospital in Shelburne was forced to close its ER for more than 24 hours beginning last Monday, while the Lillian Fraser ER in Tatamagouche shut down Thursday and Friday of last week — and will be closed on those same days again next week. They join the Digby Hospital, whose emergency room remains closed every weekday throughout July, and possibly longer.

In May, Liberal health critic Dave Wilson reported figures showing ERs in Nova Scotia had already been closed 1,947 hours to that point this year, compared to just 460 during the same period last year.

“If that’s not a crisis,” asked an editorial in the New Glasgow News at the time, “what is?”

Good question. Still no good answer from Health Minister Chris d’Entremont.

Critter alert

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has begun sending out

“Prohibition of Movement” notices to woodlot owners in parts of Hants County, restricting what they can do with all those spruce logs, wood, bark and chips on their land.

The CFIA is trying to regulate human behaviour, of course, because it has had absolutely no luck prohibiting beetle behaviour.

Since arriving in wood-packing materials from overseas in 1999, the spruce longhorn beetle, which has been declared a “serious risk” to all the forests in North America, has been eating its way through Nova Scotia woodland. After wreaking havoc on Point Pleasant Park, it began its current westward munch.

Last spring, the CFIA extended its quarantine to include other parts of Hants County, and the latest letters from the agency are considered a preventive measure while it figures out what to do next.

Some woodlot owners like Larry Eldridge are skeptical. “We knew from day one they can’t stop this infestation. It’s the same as coyotes; they’re here to stay.”

Colin Hughes, who owns a large trucking and cutting operation in the New Ross area, told the Hants Journal last week Nova Scotia should look to Europe for solutions. “In Scandinavia, they don’t have these problems because they manage all of the woodlots and at the end of the day they have a lot more return value.”

Critter alert, take two

What began as a complaint last fall that a Berwick resident was keeping horses on his town property quickly morphed into nearly a year of debate, discussion, public hearings, committee buck passing and, of course, the usual eventual decision not to decide.

Town council responded to the initial complaints by drafting a new bylaw restricting residents from raising non-domestic animals within town limits.

“Berwick is a town, not the country, and needs to be treated that way,” argued Mayor John Prall. “It is no longer appropriate to be raising these kinds of animals in the town limits. The onus is on (this committee) to protect people with a bylaw.”

But most of those who attended a public hearing this month opposed the proposed bylaw.

Which led Berwick Chief Administrative Officer Bob Ashley to suggest setting the matter aside for future consideration. “We need to agree on the true purpose of any new bylaw,” he explained. “Is it to protect residents who don’t want livestock in their neighbourhoods, or to accommodate those who want to engage in this activity?”

Motion to table? Agreed. Next…

Oh, that kind of bore…

The Department of Natural Resources has seized 10 wild boars and charged a West Bay farmer with keeping the exotic game animals without proper permits.

Allan Wheaton, who had planned to raise the animals on his wild game farm, says he’ll fight the charges in court. “A pig’s not exotic to me,” he says. “Unless we’re talking about Miss Piggy.” He believes the department stalled issuing him the necessary permits to import the boars because it wants to remove the animal from the list of approved wild game farm animals.

The problem, says conservation officer Chris Ball, who was part of the raid on Wheaton’s farm, is that boars can be aggressive, escape their pens and endanger other animals.

“They’re omnivores and will eat anything from ducks to wild bird’s nests, eggs, small animals like fawns and even domestic pets if they get hold of one,” he says. “They’re wild and opportunistic and will feed on anything they can get.”

Sounds like politicians to me.

Continuing our critter theme…

Peter Boyles of the Hillside-Trenton Environment Watch Association says his group wants to be “like that bad mosquito that just won’t go away.”

Which is why his association staged its annual environmental protest last weekend near Nova Scotia Power’s Trenton plant during Trenton’s Fun Fest. They hope to raise public awareness about NSP’s use of environmentally unfriendly coal while touting alternative energy sources like wind power. (Perhaps they should ask singer Anne Murray just how friendly wind can be.)

This year, protesters also used the protest occasion to rally support for 12 local unionized security guards recently fired by the owners of the now-closed TrentonWorks plant who — speaking of pests that won’t go away — are now
occupying the plant.

“We’ve got to keep it in the public eye and keep it on their mind,” Boyles explained of the groups concerns about… well, everything.

On vacation

Mould in the basement… Asbestos in the walls… But no meetings “until August at the earliest.”

Members of Amherst’s West Highlands Elementary School’s advisory committee may want the province to replace their dilapidated 95-year-old school as soon as possible, but the local school board doesn’t seem to be rushing to judgment.

The school had been slated for a $3-million renovation, but those plans were put on the shelf last month after Deputy Education Minister Dennis Cochrane toured the school and advised against proceeding.

While that put the school’s future back in the board’s court, board spokesperson Terri Mingo-MacNeil told the Amherst Daily News last week that “the board hasn’t met since receiving the message from the deputy minister, and I don’t believe the operational services committee has met either.”

The board could ask the province to build a new school, or close West Highlands and move its students to already full-up Spring Street Academy or Cumberland North Academy in Brookdale.

Air quality testing this spring that showed mould levels still within acceptable limits, but the board was advised to tape over any cracks in the wall plaster.

“Safety is always our biggest concern,” says Ms Mingo-MacNeil.

Speed apparently is not.

What, me worry?

The special meeting of Canso’s town council was supposed to discuss a recent Utilities and Review Board recommendation that the town cut the number of councillors from six to four. But the 45 passionate residents who showed up at the meeting at the Shamrock Club were more interested in finding a future for their beleaguered and steadily shrinking town than in the number of councillors needed to preside over its demise.

When one man asked Mayor Ray White how his three-year plan to revitalize the town was going, the mayor had to concede… not well. “I’ve not been able to convince provincial, federal government for help,” he said. “I’ve sent letters to the four party leaders to try to get them here.”

The only hopeful moment in the meeting came when Coun. Joe Walsh, hinted a “private enterprise” may soon be headed to Canso. But he wouldn’t say more. “Loose lips sink ships,” he explained.

As for the number of ouncilors, don’t expect any fewer loose lips. Councillors voted 5-1 to maintain the status quo.

Steady as she goes.

Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King’s College. His column also appears in Thursday’s Daily News.




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