Hartlen Point residents push back against nearby DND project

A Department of National Defence weapons-testing facility remains a concern for residents

Frustration and confusion continue to grow among Hartlen Point residents, as the military prepares to build a weapons-testing facility in their community.

In January, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) announced plans to build the 9,000-square-metre facility on Hartlen Point, a wilderness area located about 20 kilometres east of Halifax.

Construction was set to begin in early 2023, but now it’s expected to start later in the year.

Residents say they know little about the project, despite assurances from DND that the community would be informed.

“A lot of the community doesn’t know what’s going on. No clue about it. It’s very easy to find people that don’t even know that there’s any sort of development in the works at all,” said resident Tony Rusinak. “I could probably walk down the streets and within eyesight of the headland, find people that don’t know about it.”

Just one of many scenic views at Hartlen Point.   Marley Jokinen

The community’s concerns about the project range from health and safety risks posed by the facility’s radio frequency emissions to loss of ocean access for local fishermen to the environmental impacts of the build.

Their biggest frustration comes from the lack of communication between DND and the community, said Rusinak. He said they’ve also contacted Fisheries and Oceans Canada and a few other groups and individuals.

“Several of us sent these messages asking if there would be any harm to the marine life, the lobster, the fishing, the fishermen,” said Rusinak. “No one is replying, and that’s been going on for quite a while now, to some very specific questions recently reiterating these things. Nobody is answering this at all.”

In January, DND stated it would undertake a standard environmental assessment of the project. However, no timeline was provided.

While DND refused an interview, a department spokesperson said in an email that an environmental assessment is underway. The spokesperson said the assessment, which will be completed by early 2023, will look at how wildlife in the area will be affected.

Rusinak said he feels the assessment is simply “a PR tactic.”

Rusinak is not the only community member feeling frustrated and uninformed. Protect Hartlen Point is a grassroots movement started by community members concerned about the impending project.

Group organizer Nikki Gullet said the assessment is something that “should have been done before selecting Hartlen Point as the site.”

Nova Scotia birder Nikki Gullet watches for rare birds at Hartlen Point. Hartlen Point is one of the top birding locations in the country, but come next year, access to the area will be lost.   Marley Jokinen

An avid birder, Gullett is particularly worried about the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that use Hartlen Point year round. Hartlen Point is one of the premier birding locations in the province and in all of Canada, according to eBird, an online database of bird observations.

“DND has told us that the facility will emit harmful radio frequencies,” said Gullett. “We’ve been told we will lose access to this area because those emissions are harmful to humans. And they’re also harmful to animals and birds and their eggs. We’ve been trying to get more information on that but we haven’t had any response on that.”

Irving Shipbuilding, which has been awarded the building contract for the project, stipulated in information handed out during a public meeting in March that the location of the project must allow for the licensing of radiation emitters by Innovation Economic Development and Science Canada (IEDSC).

Irving said IEDSC will not permit long-term operation of frequency emitters within the Halifax Harbour limits due to potential adverse effects to the health and safety of nearby populations. Hartlen Point is not considered to be within these limits.

Gullett explains that any response they have received from DND has been the result of calling several times a day over the span of weeks. She said responses are concise and uninformative.

The DND spokesperson said that they “will continue to keep the community and other stakeholders updated” about the project as information develops. DND plans to hold a community engagement session in January.

Rusinak, who attended the information session held by DND in March, doesn’t have high expectations for the event. When asked how valuable he found the first community engagement session to be, Rusinak laughed and said, “There were little bits here and there, bits of arrogant remarks here and there, I mean… You could tell that they had been coached to just stick to whatever was on the slides.”

Both Rusinak and Gullet emphasize the importance of the community continuing to speak out.

“We’ve learned from similar movements that public outcry and the voice of the community is the most impactful thing,” Gullet said.

A rally to protect Hartlen Point is being held at MP Darren Fisher’s office this Saturday. Hartlen Point residents urged the public to attend the rally and make their concerns heard.

“We’re dealing with people who want to keep this as quiet as possible,” said Rusinak. “Because they know that they’re going to do a hell of a lot of damage.”

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