DND is cross-examined over its warship testing facility at Hartlen Point

Protect Hartlen Point advocates grill DND reps at public meeting

About 90 people lined up to enter the Hartlen Point Golf Club for a meeting last week with the Department of National Defence about a naval testing facility planned for an adjacent site.

DND plans to build the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) land-based testing facility at Hartlen Point, which is past the eastern tip of the Halifax Harbour.

This bio-diverse area is a major stopping point for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. According to the birdwatching site eBird, it is the No. 1 birding spot in Nova Scotia.

One man shouted before leaving the community meeting with DND on Jan. 31.   Crystal Greene

After reports on the traffic and environmental studies were shared at the meeting, one man spoke before storming out.

“They’re going to force this down our throat … this is bulls–t! … not in my backyard. Any one of you guys would hate it if it was in your backyard … wake up!”

Throughout a question and answer session, the panel was repeatedly asked why they would put the facility at Hartlen Point if people who frequent the area didn’t want it.

“I don’t think I can actually answer that question,” said Jay Thor Turner, a navy captain and deputy project manager for CSC.

“Without this site we will be faced with significant risk to the (CSC) program and having a naval capability is essential to Canada.”

The $129-million, 11,500-square-metre facility would test the weapons systems of 15 new ships that will replace the aging fleet of 12 Halifax-class patrol frigates.

Prospectus Associates, an Ottawa-based PR firm that specializes in crisis management, moderated the floor and a Zoom chat room where an estimated 85 people were in virtual attendance.

One of Prospectus’s clients is Lockheed Martin, which is leading the design component of the CSC program. The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates the program will have a development and acquisition cost of more than $80 billion. Irving Shipyard in Halifax is building the vessels.

At a March 2022 presentation, area residents learned that access to Hartlen Point and the surrounding waters would be limited after the facility is built.

Map of Halifax Harbour
Map from a site analysis report by Irving Shipbuilding Inc. that was obtained by Protect Hartlen Point through an access to information request in 2022.

Five sites were considered and the choice was narrowed down to Hartlen Point, which met criteria to have powerful radio frequencies emanate from the facility at a 130-degree angle to the Atlantic Ocean.

According to a site study report by Irving Shipbuilding Inc., initial discussions with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada ruled out the three proposed sites within the Halifax Harbour, as radio emissions for the facility would exceed Health Canada safety limits. That left Hartlen Point as the best choice.

“Safety of the local community health and safety of the people is paramount, we don’t deviate from this and how we operate with radio frequency emitters today … it would be illegal for us to deviate,” said Turner.

Discussion at the meeting, however, turned to safety for wildlife.

“There’s no current standard for animals,” when it comes to radio emissions standards, said Turner.

“From a science perspective, the effects that radio frequency emissions have on organic tissue animals are the same.”

He then said that any safety procedures would be “harder to convey to the birds and the animals” than it would be to enforce on humans.

“How do you justify building on a bio-diverse wetland, when biodiversity and wetland loss are at the forefront?” said Nikki Gullett, who is an organizer with Protect Hartlen Point and an avid birdwatcher.

“You cannot mitigate a migratory bird path,” said Gullett.

Nikki Gullett, a birdwatcher who helped form the Protect Hartlen Point advocacy group, shares concerns during Q & A session on Jan. 31.   Crystal Greene

The crowd clapped, then there was a 15-second pause. Rob Chambers, assistant deputy minister of infrastructure and environment, said that DND was working on “OECM designations” for nature surrounding military bases across Canada. OECMs are ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ which are similar to protected conservation areas.

“Birds don’t tend to hover in one spot, which would be a problem for us.” said Turner. “We don’t anticipate harmful exposure to birds.”

“Hummingbirds hover, osprey hover, and eagles hover, and eagles are sacred to all First Nations … are the elders of the Mi’kmaw communities notified?” asked Tammy Jakeman of Cow Bay.

“We are engaging with Indigenous communities,” said Paul Schauerte, senior director of construction project delivery for DND.

The Signal asked for specifics of which Indigenous groups and individuals were consulted with and Andy MacKenzie, base commander for CFB Halifax said that the elders they reached were through the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.

“I’ll reach out to the Mi’kmaw elder that we consulted with, as well as the other community leaders and ask if they’d be comfortable with me sharing their information with you,” said MacKenzie.

A DND spokesperson later e-mailed the Signal with a statement about who was consulted with by CFB Halifax.

“These leaders, including elders, represent five separate associations, councils, community organizations and First Nations. To date, we have hosted one virtual engagement session … we have also expanded our outreach efforts by providing project information to representatives of three additional First Nations communities in the region.”

DND’s full environmental report will be released in March 2023. The next meeting with community leaders takes place in April or May. Another public meeting will be held in the fall. Construction on the testing facility is planned for late 2023 and is expected to operate by 2027.

Wetlands at Hartlen Point are shown in this photo taken on Nov. 29, 2022.   Crystal Greene


Crystal Greene

Crystal Greene

Crystal Greene (she/her) is originally from Winnipeg, where she lived most of her life. She now lives in Kjipuktuk/Halifax with her toddler. She is in the one-year Bachelor of Journalism program at University of King's College.

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  1. Definitely not NIMBYism (as the first commenter, “Dirt,” suggested.) Over 18,000 people have signed the petition against this development, representing areas all over NS. Being the number one birding site in NS, and the 10th most popular birding site in Canada makes Hartlen Point an ecological gem that should be protected. (In fact, all the other top 10 birding sites are already protected.) Time for DND and NS to get with the program and stop sacrificing these important areas when development could easily happen elsewhere.

  2. NIMBYs, a part of Halifax’s heritage. Build a new fence, then trespass anyone who’s found inside of it.

  3. I would think Osborne Head would be equally appropriate for this operation and has been used by DND for a considerable number of years. It makes no sense to follow their current path where there is such a viable option

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