A submission to
Environmental Assessment Branch,
Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour,
5151 Terminal Road,
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 2T8
Regional Planning Committee/
Regional Plan Public Hearing,
Halifax Regional Municipality.
c/o Clerk's Office,
City Hall, 1841 Argyle Street,
Halifax, NS B3J 3A5
These comments are being submitted to the Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour (NSEL) in response to a request for comments on or before May 5, 2006 on the Focus Report for the Proposed Highway 113, Class I Environmental Assessment (N.S. Dept. Transportation and Public Works, March, 2006) and the associated Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Assessment Study, Final Report (Environmental Design Management Limited report contracted by Halifax Regional Municipality, N.S. Dept. Transportation and Public Works and N.S. Department of Natural Resources, March, 2006). NOTE 1
comments are addressed also to the Regional Planning Committee of HRM (Halifax
Regional Municipality) as they are pertinent to key aspects of protection for
the Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Park proposed in the HRM Regional Plan. This
plan was first reading in HRM Regional Council on 25 April, 2006. NOTE
i. the undertaking is approved subject to specified terms and
conditions and any other approvals required by statute or
ii. an environmental-assessment report is required; or
iii. the undertaking is rejected."
In regard to the Regional Plan, a "Public Hearing to consider formal adoption of the Regional Plan, Regional Subdivision By-law and amendments to the Municipal Planning Strategies and Land Use By-laws of Halifax Regional Municipality necessary to implement the Regional Plan will take place on: Tuesday, May 16, 2006 beginning at 1:00 P.M. Halifax Regional Council Chambers City Hall, 1841 Argyle Street, Halifax."
The Focus Report for the Proposed Highway 113 (hereafter referred to as the "Focus Report") addresses possibilities for increased traffic in Halifax Regional Municipality and a perceived need to construct a 9.9 km highway (45 m wide within a 150 m right of way) connecting exit 3 on Highway 102 and exit 4 on Highway 103;
The purpose of the proposed Highway 113 is to provide a more efficient means of travel for motorists between Highway 103 and Highway 102, that bypasses the Halifax Urban Core. It will also relieve congestion on the Hammonds Plains Road. The proposed 4-lane divided highway will go from Highway 103 near Exit 4 to Highway 102 near Exit 3.
The associated Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Assessment Study Final Report (hereafter referred to as the "Assessment Study") was conducted in connection with both the Focus Report and the HRM Regional Plan. Its focus is the delineation of a regional park in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes area. Such a park is formally recognized in the Regional Plan as the "Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Park" and is one of six new parks proposed in the Regional Plan for HRM. References below to "the Park", refer to the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Park. The Park includes approximately 1450 ha of land or 1700 ha of land and water. (For convenience, Fig. 5.1 from the Assessment Study is appended to the end of this document; it shows the location of the Park, the adjacent Resource Lands/Natural Corridor and the proposed highway.)
The Terms of Reference for both reports required that they address in some detail the compatibility of the proposed Highway 113 with the Park and with broader open space and wildlife corridor functions of the area.
The highway would not be built for at least 20 years. However,
Š early planning for the highway is important as this area of HRM is developing quickly and possible routes for a new road are very limited. The majority of the proposed highway alignment crosses private land and generally skirts existing development. Without corridor preservation the majority of land required for the highway could be privately developed. The expected result would be either the elimination of any options for the highway alignment or a highway project that has higher construction costs, and causes greater impacts on existing development and the environment. Some property has been purchased in order to preserve a corridor for the highway where imminent development would have prevented preservation of the landŠ Corridor preservation work for the proposed Highway 113 began in 1998.
The overall conclusion reached in these reports in regard to ecological impacts of Highway 113 appears to be that while it is a potential threat to natural values in the area, the direct impact is minimal and it can serve as "an effective barrier to future encroachments by development"; further, "The Department [of Transportation and Public Works] recognizes the potential requirement for wildlife corridors and trail connections."
The Assessment Study provides an excellent characterization of the many natural values of the proposed Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Park area and their importance for HRM. NOTE 3 We support the concept of an "Ideal Regional Park", which would include a large Core Wilderness area and a peripheral Active Use area, also an adjacent Resource Land/Natural Corridor. The last mentioned is not formally in the Park but it is integral to its ecological integrity and important for movement of wildlife between the Chebucto Peninsula and the greater mainland.
Such a park would be a magnificent and perhaps unique resource including, as it would, a protected, ecologically diverse wilderness area and providing "Keji-like opportunities" within the confines of a major city. It will become highly valued by residents and visitors much as historic properties and our seashore are today. In addition to its inherent natural values and importance for protection of our water resources, it could become a significant contributor to our economy through ecotourism. Perhaps more significantly for the economy, it would give HRM "a lot to crow about" as a superb place to live. In the 21st century, access to "the outdoors" is an important consideration for many of the industries and businesses and associated skilled workers and professionals we want to attract and keep in this area. It is also highly appropriate for a capital region to illustrate a firm commitment to protection of the environment and biodiversity and a willingness to make the kinds of sacrifices that are more commonly asked of rural residents of Nova Scotia. It is highly prudent to make key decisions at this time given the strong development pressure in the area and the increased costs from rising land prices that would be associated with delaying decisions; further we will quickly lose many options as highways and residential and commercial developments impinge on areas that are now wilderness or quasi-wilderness. Indeed we are very fortunate in being able to make the choices presently before us.
There are, however, several concerns in these regards. One arises primarily from significant omissions in the reports related to potential impacts on the ecology of the area, and two have more to do with the legalities and practical difficulties of protecting important ecological features of the area. Consideration of the likelihood of dramatically altered traffic demands and patterns associated with rapidly rising fuel costs is an additional omission that is not cited here but we understand is the subject of one or more other submissions. Also, these comments focus on a few issues, not all possible issues, related to the ecology of the area.
Concern No. 1: The reports do not adequately address potential negative impacts of the highway on ecological functioning of the area, nor do they adequately address highway design features to mitigate such effects.
Except for impacts on wildlife corridor functions, the Focus Report and Assessment Study do not discuss in any detail, possible direct negative impacts of the highway beyond the right-of-way boundaries on either the Park itself, or on the adjacent Resource Lands/Natural Corridor area. There is substantive scientific literature on this topic. The following is an example:
The Ecological Road-Effect Zone of a Massachusetts (U.S.A.) Suburban Highway
Richard T. T. Forman* and Robert D. Deblinger, Conservation Biology 14: 1523-1739 (2000)
Abstract: Ecological flows and biological diversity trace broad patterns across the landscape, whereas transportation planning for human mobility traditionally focuses on a narrow strip close to a road or highway. To help close this gap we examined the "road-effect zone" over which significant ecological effects extend outward from a road. Nine ecological factors—involving wetlands, streams, road salt, exotic plants, moose, deer, amphibians, forest birds, and grassland birds—were measured or estimated near 25 km of a busy four-lane highway west of Boston, Massachusetts. The effects of all factors extended >100 m from the road, and moose corridors, road avoidance by grassland birds, and perhaps road salt in a shallow reservoir extended outwards >1 km. Most factors had effects at 2–5 specific locations, whereas traffic noise apparently exerted effects along most of the road length. Creating a map of these effects indicates that the road-effect zone averages approximately 600 m in width and is asymmetric, with convoluted boundaries and a few long fingers. We conclude that busy roads and nature reserves should be well separated, and that future transportation systems across landscapes can provide for ecological flows and biological diversity in addition to safe and efficient human mobility.
The Assessment Study correctly identified the importance of preserving wildlife corridor functions in the area, including areas to the west of the proposed park as
(i) a corridor for movement of wildlife between the Chebucto Peninsula and Mainland Nova Scotia;
The Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes area occupies a strategic location as the connecting green space/wilderness area at the "pinch point" between approximately 22,000 hectares of undeveloped land on the Chebucto Peninsula and the greater mainland of central Nova Scotia. The pinch point of the Chebucto Peninsula extends approximately 18 kms between the Head of St. Margaret's Bay east to the Bedford Basin, the widest section of the Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Study Area is approximately 10 kms across this same corridor leaving only 8 kms of land connecting the Chebucto Peninsula to the greater mainland. (Assessment Study, p.24).
(ii) a corridor and/or habitat for migration of species into the Park, necessary for the long term maintenance of the current level of biodiversity:
It is important to note that while it may be determined in the future that connectivity is not be required at a provincial level of concern between the two large Crown parcels, the proposed Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Park should still be connected to adjacent resource lands. This connectivity is necessary to maintain the diversity and species richness within the park boundary. As human use of the park intensifies the pressure on individual species will increase, and many species will slowly die out if there is not a ready population that can easily re-populate the park on a regular basis. In addition, without connectivity the genetic pool within the park may become limited over time for species without a sufficiently large population. Connectivity also helps the park be more resilient to disturbances such as a fire, hurricane or other natural disaster. Maintenance of species diversity within the proposed park area over the long term will likely require connectivity to at least one resource area and preferably two. (Assessment Study, p. 46)
Fragmentation of contiguous wild (or largely unmanaged) landscapes is the major cause of species loss globally and locally over the last century. This is only partially due to loss of habitat per se. Today, professional ecologists talk about "the flux of nature" rather than a " balance of nature", recognizing that populations of different species are not static; the norm is for populations to fluctuate over time and even to go locally extinct due to natural cycles and natural or manmade catastrophic events such as fire and disease. Thus, immigration of individuals into an area becomes critical for the long-term maintenance of a species in that area (and the same area also acts at times as a source of immigrants for other areas). Fragmentation of natural landscapes leads to loss of species in an otherwise suitable area by eliminating the possibility for immigration or by reducing the rate of immigration below that necessary to maintain a population over longer periods of time or at critical times. The degree of landscape connectivity that is required to maintain a species in a particular area depends on the species and local factors; in general, the larger the local area, the less sensitive it is to the degree of connectivity with other areas, but of course a larger area would be required to maintain moose than for example, a ground beetle.
This short discussion is offered to emphasize two points: (i) populations of all species, including, for example, plants and insects, and not just those of the larger or more noticeable animals (deer, moose, frogs etc,) are sensitive to reductions in the degree of connectivity of landscapes; (ii) regardless of special passage-ways that might be built into the design of the highway and that might be adequate for some, more mobile species, there will be reductions in overall connectivity, i.e. it is inevitable that a highway will lead to some (negative) effects on connectivity and biodiversity within the proposed park.
The connectivity issue is very significant in relation to the Park. A high degree of connectivity is critical because of the Park's relatively small size; maintenance of ecological integrity over the longer term – especially if there are fires - will be highly dependent on connectivity and immigration. That there will be fires, started by natural processes or by humans, seems to be a fairly safe prediction. (In fact, much of the vegetation in quasi-wilderness areas of HRM consists of early successional species that are either stimulated by fire (e.g, jack pine), or stimulated by release of competition by fires (e.g., white birch, large tooth aspen).
In regard to migration of species between the greater mainland and the Chebucto Peninsula, connectivity is probably not highly critical for maintenance of smaller and more numerous species in the Chebucto Peninsula, but it could be for larger animals, e.g., moose, brown bear, deer, as noted in the Assessment Study. NOTE 4 Of particular concern is the fact that highway 113, in the absence of specific design features, would eliminate two of the three existing "key opportunities" that facilitate movement of such wildlife between the Chebucto Peninsula wilderness areas and the Bowater Mersey lands north of Hammonds Plains Road (Assessment Study p. 45; Appendix A: Figure 20).
These effects and how they will be dealt with are not addressed in any detail in the Focus Report or in the Assessment Study; rather it is recommended simply that "highway design that facilitates the movement of a wide variety of plants and animals should be consideredŠ" and TPW comments that
In consultation with DNR, the provision of passage for a variety of species will be considered in the design of the structure crossing the Maple Lake/Frasers Lake watercourse; in addition, four water crossings will be required over Fishers Brook and Stillwater Run; two of these are fish habitat; avoidance of fish habitat damage and provision of fish passage must be provided for these crossings; in the design of these crossings consideration will be given to providing sufficient width and span height to allow the passage of all but the largest wildlife species, which would provide connectivity in areas with less human presence than the Maple Lake/Frasers Lake crossing may have.
That on its own might be reassuring if the design of wildlife corridors through highways was a well developed science. It isn't. There is a large literature in this area. An authoritative recent text on Ecosystem Management notes possible pitfalls of designed corridors and comments:
At present we do not understand corridors well enough to evaluate these possible pitfall. In the years to come, after more movement corridors have been designed, implemented, and monitored for success, we will better understand their potential advantages and disadvantages. In the meantime we need to try and reconnect landscapes that were historically connected and that have become fragmented though human use. (GK Meffe et al., Ecosystem Management: Adaptive, Community-based Conservation
Island Press, 2002)
Further there have been many practical difficulties with maintaining wildlife corridors through highways, and the more elaborate, possibly more effective, corridors are very expensive. These issues have not been addressed in relation to the proposed highway.
Concern No, 2 Insufficient consideration is given to the need to protect the Resource lands/Natural Corridor area to the west of the proposed park and highway, and for immediate protection of the entire area from development.
Even if the highway were constructed with effective wildlife passageways, or even if it were not constructed at all, the wildlife corridor lands and significant wetlands and other water resources to the west of the proposed park and highway – as well as the Core Wilderness Area and the peripheral Active Use Area - are potentially subject to fragmentation and physical disruption through development of existing private holdings. Further, statements in the focus report give some concern that tradeoffs of crown land in this western area might be made with local developers in exchange for private lands currently held within the planned highway right of way.
In the Assessment Study it is noted:
Connecting the park to resource lands could require management control and/or acquisition of critical parcels in the area between Timberlea, Kingswood, and Hammonds Plains, as indicated in Figure 20 of Appendix A entitled Connectivity.
However, there is not much further discussion of this issue, which is clearly critical for connectivity.
Understandably the Focus Report, coming from the Department of Transportation and Public Works, focuses on securing rights of way for the Highway. The discussion reveals the sorts of tradeoffs that have occurred before:
Over time, some of the crown land has been traded off to developers for other properties or assets resulting in some erosion of the crown land holdings. As well, development pressure in the area is raising the cost of purchasing private land that might be added to the crown land for protection [ of the proposed Park] and actual developments are gradually encroaching on the proposed protected [Park] area; similarly, these pressure are raising the costs of private land that would need to be purchased to build the connector highway or, through development, could directly encroach on the proposed highway.
It is clear from various statements in the reports that there is good reason to be concerned about development pressures and that possible land swaps in favour of the highway would detract from the western corridor area, e.g., on p. 33 of the Assessment Study it is noted:
€Mapping of developed and developable private land indicates the rapid rate of development and the likelihood of development on private lands which would preclude construction of Highway 113, if the corridor were not established well before planned highway construction;
€ Developers have modified their plans based on the publication of the plans for Highway 113, confirming the need to establish the corridor and identifying a need to resolve the issue, so that developers can proceed.
On page 50 it is noted:
The Crown and private lands lying to the south and west of the generalized park area form an important natural corridor, providing connectivity to the more extensive Crown and Bowater lands to the south and westŠ A critical link in this corridor is at Maple Lake/Frasers Lake where the proposed Highway 113 corridor crosses the lake system. The highway will be located on one of the few remaining "necks" of land available for species movement. The Piercey Investors subdivision development on their lands to the west of the lakes may present a significant complication for this initiative.
Also, large sections in the western area are rated at the two top levels in the suitability scale for unserviced residences (Fig 12 of the Appendix to the Assessment Study), which would add to pressure to trade off these area off for private lands needed for the Highway right-of-way.
Clearly the same development pressures that threaten the right-of-way for Highway 113, also threaten the maintenance of or procurement of additional lands to ensure the integrity of the resource lands/natural corridor west of the proposed park and highway 113 as well as the Core Wilderness area and the peripheral Active Use area. The difference is that procurement of land to secure a right-of-way for Highway 113 began in 1998 and is the focus of TPW concerns (understandably), while equivalent consideration and priority has not been given to ensure the integrity of the western Resource lands/Natural Corridor area or even of the Core Wilderness area and the peripheral Active Use area of the Park proper.
The highway is promoted as "an effective barrier to future encroachment [of the Park] by development". However, the protection afforded by the highway is not a physical barrier but rather a legal barrier associated with procurement of the right of way 20 or years before a highway might even be considered. There seems no logical reason why, in the same context, the same kind of insurance should not be applied to securing the integrity of the western Resource Land/Natural Corridor area as well as that of the Core Wilderness area and the peripheral Active Use area of the Park proper.
Future generations will thank us for leaving all options fully open at a time when we still have the choice to do so, not just those related to the highway.
Concern No. 3 There is some ambiguity in the proposal to maintain a large core wilderness area in the Park, but not to give it wilderness area status under the Wilderness Areas Protection Act.
Giving such status to the core wilderness area would be the best way to protect it, while still allowing the core area recreational activities discussed in the Assessment Study. This designation would be very appropriate in the context of this area being in an urban capital city. It would be an invaluable educational tool for residents of HRM, an additional "crow factor" for HRM, and the best practical protection we could give to the most valued features of the Park.
The Assessment Study is excellent in many regards, but is seriously deficient in regard to possible direct negative impacts of the proposed highway beyond it's the right-of-way and in regard to the limitations and challenges of mitigating effects of the highway on corridor functions. The need to protect the western Resource Land/Natural Corridor area is cited, but is not emphasized and is not given due consideration in the Focus Report. The Assessment Study indicates that the proposed boundaries are not fixed, but are adaptable which, given the development pressure in the area and the high priority given to procurement of right of way for the highway, raises concerns about possible opportunistic and irreversible development in key areas and about possible tradeoffs of land that would compromise the integrity of the Park and the western Resource Land/Natural Corridor area. Thus we suggest:
· If the highway option is not rejected, a full environmental review should be required. At the minimum, the necessity to secure the western Resource Land/Natural Corridor as well as the Core Wilderness area and the peripheral Active Use area should be given as much emphasis as that given to procurement of lands for the highway right-of-way.
· Regardless of whether the highway option is rejected or maintained, the integrity of the western resource Land/Natural Corridor area, as well as that of the Park proper, need to be secured; an immediate, unequivocal moratorium should be placed on any further development in the entire area.
· The benefits of giving the Core Wilderness area protection under Wilderness Areas Protection Act should be seriously considered.
1. The pertinent announcements and documents were accessed at a Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour webpage: Highway 113 Project
The relevant documents are available as downloadable PDF documents, including:
Focus Report (1.1 mb) www.gov.ns.ca/enla/ea/highway113/Hwy113_FocusReportPublicNotice.pdf
The text of the Assessment Study is contained in Appendix B1 (8.3 mb) and Appendix B2 (8.1 mb):
Terms of Reference, detailed GIS-based maps, the traffic projection study and other relevant documents are also accessible via the Highway 113 Project webpage.
For convenience, Assessment Study Fig. 5.1 showing the location and boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Park and the adjacent Resource Lands/Natural Corridor area and the proposed highway is appended to the end of this document.
2. See HRM Regional Planning for HRM at
The full Plan is available at
Map 13 listed on that page shows the location and boundaries of the proposed Blue Mountain Birch Coves Lake Park and the adjacent Resource Lands/Natural Corridor.
3. Public Interest Group Values for the Blue Mountain/Birch Cove lakes area cited in the Assessment Study include
€Last piece of publicly owned wilderness in this part of HRM
€ Largest area without roads near the Halifax urban concentration
€ Known populations of endangered mainland moose (Chebucto population)
€ Contains 22 lakes and ponds many of which are entirely surrounded by public
€ Contains headwaters of the Kearney Lake, Papermill Lake, and Nine Mile River
€ Diverse mosaic of ecosystem types, including numerous forest types (e.g., white
pine, red spruce, red oak, yellow birch, white birch, poplar, red maple, black
spruce, mountain ash), wetlands, barrens, aquatic areas, rivers, rapids, cliffs
€ Presence of southern coastal plain flora species adjacent to sub-arctic alpine
€ Several stands of old-growth Acadian forests, including exceptional stands of old
red oak, old red spruce, and old white pine (with understories of similar species
€ Presence of a naturally rare stand of jack pine (fire dependent ecosystem)
€ Presence of at least two rare granite barren ecosystems dominated by tolerant red
oak species (red oaks usually occur in relatively nutrient rich areas)
€ Numerous granite barren ecosystems, and associated rare arctic-alpine plants
(e.g., Greenland sandwort (Arenaria groenlandica))
€ Numerous wetlands with examples of bogs, fens, swamps, and shallow water
€ Significant wetlands, including the "promised lands," Stillwater Run, and the
lakeshore fens of the Birch Cove Lakes canoe loop
€ Highest point of land in Metro Halifax ("Blue Mountain Hill")14 with associated
windblown treeless area and sub-arctic alpine plants
€ Abundance of bird species, with 146 different species recorded by the Nova
Scotia Bird Society (e.g., osprey, loon, bald eagle, blue heron, mourning dove,
American kestrel, Swainson's thrush, pileated woodpecker, great-horned owl,
cedar waxwing, etc.) owing to geographic location and habitat diversity. Many of
these are breeders. Some are recognized as rare species.
4. Some argument is made that the Mainland Moose numbers in this region are so low (approximately 30 centered on the Chebucto Peninsula, and 20 in the Ship Harbour area) that we can really not make a strong case for extra-ordinary measures to protect them; the survival of mainland moose is dependent on maintenance of the larger concentrations elsewhere. That may be true in a strict sense. However, they do or could have strong symbolic value; as a large, rather elusive species, real efforts made to protect the Halifax County moose will protect many other species and habitats. The Florida panther is an appropriate analogy; there are only approximately 50 of these animals left in the whole state of Florida, but extra-ordinary efforts, highly supported by the public, are being made to conserve them. This could hardly be justified economically or even by wildlife biologists were it not that the efforts to conserve the Florida panther - including protection of key corridor areas – also protect key habitats for many other species. In Nova Scotia the Mainland Moose could be our Florida Panther! Additionally, by giving proper protection to moose in the capital area, there will less resentment of protection measures in rural areas.
The next page is Figure. 5.1 (Proposed Blue Mountain/Birch Cove lakes Park) from the Assessment Study (p. 47).