Besides healthy sea breezes, the Northwest Arm has gifted HRM citizens with beauty, peace, recreation, fishing and transportation. This popular, well-loved public waterway is now facing a complicated dilemma with the existence of outdated “pre-confederation” water lots. This designation gives these unique waterfront properties a potential extension of the property beyond the shoreline, into the waters of the Northwest Arm.
There are 155 “pre-confederation” deeded waterfront lots on the Northwest Arm that extend beyond the shoreline. Pre 1867 the deeds gave landowners access to the water and allowed for the construction of wharfs, fish sheds, docks and boat moorings. Fast forward to today’s situation where some shorelines have already been filled in with rock, silt and soil, effectively creating a landmass into the Arm. While this additional land increases the property value for owners there are some present-day issues and concerns that are being hotly debated.
Flash point issues being challenged are the narrowing of navigational channels, the loss of sensitive marine ecosystems, impact on lobster fisheries livelihood, the disruption of the natural hydrology of tidal flushing of these waterways, and the unobstructed recreational use of the Northwest Arm.
To date there has been considerable and constant pressure on both the Municipal and Federal governments to stop the infilling of the Northwest Arm. This has resulted in the Federal government expressing a willingness to recognize a limited jurisdiction for the Municipality over the infilling of water lots.
Andy Fillmore, MP Halifax, voiced his concern with other environmentalists and concerned citizens over the infilling of the Arm and recently stated, “We have been working with city officials and the relevant federal departments to help facilitate the HRM initiative to regulate infilling on the Northwest Arm.”
According to the HRM staff report of October 31, 2023, Attachment A, if all ‘pre-confederation’ water lots were filled in, the surface area of the water in the Arm would be reduced by 31% and the width of the entrance to the Arm would be reduced by more than half! Oh buoy. This is not good.
The HRM Council staff report also states “that only water lot infilling activities which would enable the following would be allowed on the Northwest Arm: public infrastructure; utility use; publicly owned or operated ferry terminals; parks on public land; municipal, provincial, and national historic sites and monuments; and retaining walls. Additionally, it is being proposed that any water lot infilling activities on the Northwest Arm permitted by the Minister would first be required to obtain a development permit from the Municipality before being allowed to proceed by the Municipality notwithstanding Federal permitting.” Staff also recommended that Regional Council initiate the process to amend the land use by-laws and build in the opportunity for public participation in the debates.
Patty Cuttell, HRM Councillor District 11, has been vocal on this topic and said “The infilling issue is about private privilege over public benefit. I’m very happy to finally see that the process for amending HRM by-laws has started. The next steps include a staff report coming back to Council sometime in December, and a Public Hearing in January. There will be opportunity for residents to provide their input on this matter. I know protecting this environmentally sensitive waterway and preserving the recreational use of the Northwest Arm is very important to the residents of HRM.”
Staff Report: https://tinyurl.com/5fj9un47
Ecology Action: https://protectthenorthwestarm.com,