DND is cross-examined over its warship testing facility at Hartlen Point
Protect Hartlen Point advocates grill DND reps at public meeting
February 6, 2023, 4:21 pm ASTLast Updated: April 10, 2023, 2:25 pm
About 90 people lined up to enter the Hartlen Point Golf Club for a meeting with the Department of National Defence about a naval testing facility planned for an adjacent site in Eastern Passage.
DND plans to build the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) land-based testing facility 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.
After reports on the traffic and environmental studies were shared at the Jan. 31 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’s Halifax Shipyard 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.
Five sites were considered. Hartlen Point 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,” said Turner. “We don’t deviate from this and how we operate with radio frequency emitters today … it would be illegal for us to deviate.”
Birds and elders
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.” Safety procedures, he continued, would be “harder to convey to the birds and the animals” than humans.
Nikki Gullett, an organizer with Protect Hartlen Point and an avid birdwatcher, expressed environmental concern.
“How do you justify building on a bio-diverse wetland, when biodiversity and wetland loss are at the forefront? You cannot mitigate a migratory bird path.”
Rob Chambers, assistant deputy minister of infrastructure and environment, said 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.”
Tammy Jakeman of Cow Bay said hummingbirds, osprey and eagles hover “and eagles are sacred to all First Nations,” asking “are the elders of the Mi’kmaw communities notified?”
DND is “engaging with Indigenous communities,” said Paul Schauerte, senior director of construction project delivery for DND.
The Signal asked for specifics on which Indigenous groups and individuals were consulted. Andy MacKenzie, base commander for CFB Halifax said elders were reached through the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.
A DND spokesperson later e-mailed the Signal with a statement.
“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.
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