Nova Scotia

'Protecting a special place': Community concerned about DND project at Hartlen Point

Community members in Eastern Passage are concerned about a Department of National Defence construction project. A warship systems testing facility is set to be built at Hartlen Point, but residents of the area say they do not have enough information and are worried about the impact of the development.

A Department of National Defence warship testing facility is set to be built on Halifax-area peninsula

Tony Rusinak takes photos of plants at Hartlen Point. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

As Tony Rusinak and his neighbours walk down a grassy path at Hartlen Point in Eastern Passage, they take photos of every bird, insect and tree they see. 

The photos are part of an environmental campaign focused on finding, identifying and logging as many species as possible in the area.

The community members plan to use the photos to help them protect the peninsula they use daily. 

Rusinak said the so-called bio blitz "is to bring validity to the natural value of the headland. So it's one more way to add a comprehensive database to the argument that this area should be protected."

The rocky coastline, forest and scrub land of Hartlen Point is owned by the Department of National Defence, and a $64-million testing facility is set to be built there next year

The facility will be used to test the combat, navigation and communication systems of the new Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) ships. 

A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence told CBC News that though the area is private property, the department has "frequently allowed residents to use the DND lands at Hartlen Point for bird watching, hiking, and other activities."

Hartlen Point is the future site of a warship systems testing facility. (Google Maps)

Rusinak said the area is ecologically diverse and unique. He and more than 100 local people have formed a Facebook group to share their concerns about the project and are holding a community meeting on Monday.

"I'm concerned about the hundreds of thousands of migratory birds that come here every year," Rusinak said. "The list goes on and on and on. There is a lot of wildlife on this point ... also a lot of recreational activities and fishing activities."

Bonnie Wilczynski and Craig Hartlen are one of the concerned families who live near the point.

Wilczynski said the community has been kept in the dark. One community engagement meeting was held in March, but she said it left her family with questions.

Craig Hartlen said his distant relatives sold the land at Hartlen Point. His family still lives there. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

"A lot of the project going forward has been hush-hush," Wilczynski said.

Hartlen said he has lived in the area his whole life and is now a lobster fisherman in the area. He is concerned the project will affect his livelihood.

"That's where we fish on a daily basis. No one has had contact with anybody in the fishing industry," Hartlen said. "And I don't know if we're just going to go out there one day and they're going to say, 'Oh, you can't go to work anymore here.'"

As for Rusinak, he said he's most worried about losing the pocket of nature steps from his home. 

Tony Rusinak is one of the community members trying to protect Hartlen Point. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

"This is protecting a special place, and there's only so many of them left. And once they're gone, they're gone."

Rusinak said the community is not trying to stop construction, but does have some requests. 

"First off, we want clear communication," he said. "Second off, we want a proper community impact assessment done where they talk to the community and they advertise to every single house in this neighbourhood."

He said the community also hopes to be able to continue to enjoy access to the coastline after the facility is built. 

DND response

In a statement to CBC News, Andrée-Anne Poulin, a Department of National Defence spokesperson, said "it is too early to determine future public access" at this point in the project.

Poulin said environmental studies are being conducted "to better understand how we can offset any potential impacts at Hartlen Point."

Community members hike through Hartlen Point on Saturday. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Poulin said the department will continue to consult with the community about the project, and most of the community questions thus far have "focused on the environment, future access to the site, impact on community safety due to increased traffic."

She said another community engagement session will be held in the fall once the environmental assessment is complete. 

Rusinak and his neighbours said they plan to submit the data from their efforts as part of that assessment. 

"We're not trying to go against the military whatsoever. We want to protect Hartlen Point. That's it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicola Seguin is a TV, radio, and online journalist with CBC Nova Scotia, based in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). She often covers issues surrounding housing and homelessness. If you have a story idea, email her at nicola.seguin@cbc.ca or find her on twitter @nicseg95.

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