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regional council

Council votes for environmental assessment of Port Wallace development site

Concern over mercury and arsenic contamination in water prompts testing process

2 min read
caption Possible mercury and arsenic contamination presents a risk to water sources in the Port Wallace development.
Photo illustration by Sam Fraser

The municipality will conduct an environmental assessment on municipal-owned lands in the Port Wallace area, which are downstream from a site containing high levels of mercury and arsenic.

Halifax regional council voted unanimously Tuesday to conduct the assessment to help minimize potential health and environmental risks.

The motion follows a 2014 plan to design and construct a new commercial and residential area on 527 acres of municipality-owned land in the same area, along Mitchell’s Brook and Barry’s Run.

Possible contamination

Upstream from the land is a former gold mine, and the land surrounding it is known to be contaminated with high levels of mercury and arsenic. The motion said the tailings (hazardous ore waste from the mine) were typically dumped into Mitchell’s Brook, which flows into the wetlands of Barry’s Run. This presents a concern for future water sources on the proposed development site.

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Deputy Mayor Tony Mancini introduced the motion. As a councillor, his district of Harbourview-Burnside-Dartmouth East includes part of the lands that would be assessed and developed.

Mancini made note of the province’s assessment of provincially owned lands in the vicinity, such as the site of the mine.

“The province is doing (an assessment) on the rest of the lands that are there,” said Mancini. “And we need to do it on our land.”

He hoped his colleagues would vote in favour of the municipal assessment, calling it “the right thing to do.”

According to a 2015 report from the Department of Natural Resources, the tailings of the nearby gold mine showed an average arsenic level of 13,951 milligrams per kilogram. National soil quality guidelines call for no more than 12 milligrams per kilogram. The province is planning to close off the site.

The motion also cites concerns from Halifax Water that any development work may disturb the land and cause potential contaminants to spread downstream to Lake Charles, which is a source of drinking water for the Municipality of East Hants.

The site assessment will be carried out in two phases: The first phase involves investigating to see if there is contamination and, if needed, the second phase will develop a plan to deal with the contamination.

Cost and setbacks

Coun. Steve Streatch supported the motion, pointing out that Barry’s Run was “virtually the dividing line” between Mancini’s district and his district of Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley. Streatch expressed concern over what kind of delay the assessment would present to the development of the area.

Paul Burgess, Halifax Regional Municipality infrastructure policy manager, responded saying everything is relative to how long the first assessment phase takes. However, Burgess acknowledged the municipality was in a position where it could “act on this immediately” and said the project would likely be completed in four to six months.

The assessment is estimated to cost $100,000, but the exact price will depend on the results of the first phase.

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