Environmental Politics In St. Margaret's Bay, N.S.
St. Margaret's Bay is a growing suburban area and tourist spot west of Halifax. However, this growth has highlighted the need for leadership from elected officials. Local residents have been concerned about a large new house that is being built on a tiny tidal flat, with a sewage system that is designed to drain at the shore of Frost Fish Cove on St. Margaret's Bay.
Shellfish harvesting is already closed here because of bacteriological contamination. (See Environment Canada map. Throughout this summer there has frequently been brown foam across the water which is obviously from sewage. The fish are also depleted around St. Margaret's Bay, so that while we are attempting to promote tourism in this area near Peggy's Cove, instead of seeing swordfish, tuna, whales, sharks and so on, it looks more like an acid lake near Sudbury, Ontario.
For the Green Party, the NDP and the Liberals, this septic approval may be a good example of a local environmental issue that needs governance. At least those parties have specific new environmental policies. Gerald Keddy, the current MP (Conservative), has received lots of information about the problems here, but apparently prefers to be in the newspaper for ribbon-cutting and has not acted in any way with this case.
The Ombudsman has investigated this property, concluding that "applications for variances must include an evaluation of the potential for adverse effects" (Aug. 28/08). That doesn't seem to have happened in this case.
The provincial Environment department also conducted an investigation of the system, because it was never inspected as legally required when first installed. However, they delayed for a year and then said that there was not enough evidence to press charges. (It is not clear what sort of evidence they expected to find to prove that an inspection was not done.)
Nova Scotia also has an archaic inspection procedure in the guise of privatization and efficiency. The landowner pays the engineer for designing and surveying, and also for the inspection. So the engineer inspects his own work, and the property developer holds the purse strings. A few conflicts of interest there.
The NS Auditor General did a report on the Nova Scotia Environment department this year, concluding that they are doing a poor job of protecting the environment: "policies and procedures are inadequate, information is incomplete and sometimes enforcement is ineffective... The report also concluded that inspection processes are not adequate enough to ensure compliance with the Environment Act."
Ordinarily septic approvals are a provincial matter. However, the lead regulator is supposed to consult with other relevant regulators to ensure compliance. Yet it appears that Nova Scotia Environment has issued a Variance and a Septic Approval in this case that violates the federal Fisheries Act.
The Fisheries Act is very straightforward: "No person shall deposit... a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish" (Section 36). That is why MP Gerald Keddy should have gotten involved over the past two years. This septic system is approved to release up to 1000 litres a day of sewage effluent (every day), on this small cove where people swim and near where a kayak rental business tries to attract customers.
This has been a major local issue that has received extensive media coverage, as you can see from the web site (below). Just down the road, there is a new park and beach at McCoo's Island. So why would approval be given to release sewage effluent at the shore on the same road?
Environment Canada is responsible for Section 36 of the Fisheries Act, and does have an Enforcement Office nearby. But how likely is it that they will embarrass the provincial regulators and enforce the law for this new construction? Municipalities across Nova Scotia already pipe their raw sewage into the ocean. Perhaps that is why the public servants have withheld Freedom of Information documents about this, and why there have been so many inconsistencies in this case. We need some leadership here.
Concerned Residents of Frost Fish Cove.