A Nova Scotia land swap between the Crown and a rock quarry business has re-ignited fears a quarry near Upper Tantallon will expand — and lead to a permanent asphalt plant being established at the site.

Through this land swap, Scotian Materials has obtained 23.9 hectares of former Crown land adjacent to its quarry. While the province has received 95.9 hectares of forest from Scotian Materials, that land is split between Fall River and Ingramport.

There's already a temporary asphalt plant at the rock quarry site run by Scotia Materials Ltd. near Highway 103, the company wants to make it permanent.

Last June, around 500 people turned out to a public meeting, many opposed the idea of a permanent asphalt plant.

The plant would mean more traffic, air pollution and noise, said John Turnbull, vice president of Westwood Hills Residents Association.

"It's just not good at all," Turnbull said. "The environmental concerns are numerous."

The quarry is a kilometre from three lakes and more than three kilometres from residential and commercial centres in Upper Tantallon.

More land 'makes sense'

Company president Robert MacPherson said having more land "makes sense" to dig for gravel, which is known as aggregate, to make asphalt. But he said his application for the plant is not linked to this land swap. 

"Whatever plans we decide to go forward with in the future would be subject to all sorts of government consultations and approval," MacPherson said. 


The rock quarry and temporary asphalt plant are not far from Highway 103. (Google Earth)

'Just a normal land exchange'

Community members took to social media Saturday to complain the land swap was a surprise, made with no community consultation and only announced through a Feb. 10 order in council. After going half a year with no word on the asphalt project, many felt this latest move certainly appeared like a step towards approval.

lloyd hines

Minister Lloyd Hines said communities can contribute to development decisions after permits and proposals have been filed. (http://nslegislature.ca/)

Nova Scotia Minister of Natural Resources Lloyd Hines said the community will have more opportunity to discuss any development on the site in the future, if applications for that are filed. 

In this, as in other cases, Hines said the department considered how the province would benefit only and not how the land it swapped could be developed. 

Hines said the land quality is high and obtaining it gets the province closer to its goal of preserving more Crown land. 

"This is just a normal land exchange," Hines said.

Highway 103 'strategic'

The department considers hundreds of land swaps each year, not making it feasible to consult on every one, said Hines. Although the community has "concerns I can certainly appreciate," he said. The public can weigh in later if companies file for permits to build or have environmental assessments done, he said.

Hines pointed out it makes sense that the company wants to expand a quarry near a highway, because gravel is heavy and costly to transport.

"Our desire is that we promote economic activity in Nova Scotia. No doubt Scotian Materials are looking at this from their strategic location perspective in terms of its location to the 103," Hines said. 

"You wouldn't want to build a road in Meat Cove and bring the material from Yarmouth," he said. 

Turnbull said he worries the new land could give the company an unfair advantage in the future.

"They are situating themselves very strategically to become the lowest bidder on the potential twinning of the 103 highway," Turnbull said.

"That's perfectly obvious. Twinning requires asphalt. Asphalt requires aggregate. It's blatantly obvious what their intentions are."

Site 'well positioned'

In fact, that was a consideration in an April 2015 report by Andrew Bone, a senior planner with Halifax Regional Municipality. He recommended council take more time to further assess Scotian Material's request for bylaw amendments. 

"The site is well positioned to accommodate a growing market in the area including the recently announced Ingramport interchange and future plans for twinning Highway 103," Bone said of the company's rationale for choosing that particular site to expand.

Bone is currently drafting an information report for council outlining the status of the case. That will identify the next steps with regards to public consultations.

Amy Johnson

Tantallon resident Amy Johnson was one of about 500 people who attended a public meeting in June 2015. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

Not so close

As for Westwood Hills residents, Turnbull said they're hoping for consultation, strict environmental rules and ideally, no asphalt plant.

"There's no question we need asphalt. We need aggregate," Turnbull said.

"But these facilities don't need to exist so close to populated areas."

Scotian Materials is the same company behind the proposed quarry in Fall River. Former Environment Minister Andrew Younger overturned its approval last November because he said there had been too little public consultation.

With files from Steve Berry