West Pennant residents concerned about infilling near protected area

Last week, trees, rocks and gently flowing water dominated the landscape of a small coastal property in the West Pennant, N.S., area. 

Today, there are mounds of dirt and fill covering the piece of land southwest of Halifax.

The municipality received a development permit application for the property in July and the permit was granted last month.

But residents say they're concerned because the property, which will become home to a single-unit dwelling if a construction permit is granted, is a sensitive ecological area.

The infilled property lies at the mouth of a river running from 121 hectares of land recently conserved by the Nova Scotia Nature Trust to the ocean. It is also not far from the Terence Bay Provincial Wilderness Area.

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Richard Kroeker lives nearby and said he was "quite shocked" when the infilling began on Monday.

"I can't think of a more sensitive site than this one within Halifax, because although you're seeing a very little contained mouth of a stream here, think about the huge ecosystem that it represents, both in the ocean and then the lakes and streams and so on," he said.

"Once something like this deteriorates, it's not easily reversible or it's not reversible at all."

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Bonnie Sutherland, the executive director of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, said gaspereau and eels migrate up the Pennant River, which supports a large watershed. The area is also a popular swimming and fishing spot.

"Having a river with intact habitat on both sides of it provides this natural sort of highway for nature," Sutherland said. "Those kind of corridors are really important. They are where a lot of wildlife travels from the sea into the … freshwater wilderness."

But the alterations being made to the land are within the landowner's right.

According to the municipality's planning office, it only has the authority to examine whether a permit application fits the land-use bylaws — and this one does. The environmental effects of a project are not within the office's jurisdiction, says Erin MacIntyre, the program manager for land development and subdivision.

"There's been a wealth of concern expressed.… I have heard and I understand and I even sympathize with the situation that they're in," she said.

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"But unfortunately, in terms of permit applications … the development officer is required — directed by the charter — to issue permits that meet the land-use bylaw requirements, so unfortunately in this case, we're not really able to look outside of that scope of those rules."

Kroeker said that's something other communities should be concerned about.

"I think the laws aren't robust enough, obviously, to protect something like this," he said.

"And rather than, let's say, blaming the individuals involved, now we're looking to see that the laws are made more robust, so that when areas like this come up for development, that they're properly reviewed — not just with a view to how we can aid development, but also how can we protect the environment in the longer term."

With files from Shaina Luck

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