Agenda March 1
Banook Fish Ladder:
The topic of fish passage from the Harbour to Lake Banook was on yesterday’s agenda. Once the Sawmill River project is complete, fish will be able to make their way up to Sullivan’s Pond. The problem is they won’t be able to get into Banook and Micmac unless the culverts at Hawthorne Street are modified and a fish ladder is constructed around the Lock at Findlay Park. Opening up the wider watershed has major potential ecological and water quality benefits. Estimates indicate that Gaspereau runs into Banook and beyond could total over 100,000 fish and research from Maine has revealed that when Gaspereau return to the environment, water quality also improves. The stars are aligning nicely for a Banook project thanks to DFO, the Port Authority, and HRM working together.
Part of DFO’s mandate is to protect fish habitat, but sometimes, habitat destruction is an unavoidable part of new development. In those instances, DFO requires that habitat destruction be compensated for by improving fish habitat elsewhere. This is commonly called offsetting. The Port Authority recently expanded the Halifax Container Terminal to handle larger ships and as part of that project, the Port had to infill a portion of Halifax Harbour near Black Rock Beach. The result is the Port Authority has to undertake offsetting projects to compensate for the damage to the Harbour.
Some of the Port Authority’s offsetting work has already taken place in the form of new reef balls in Halifax Harbour, but the really outside the box part that the Port and DFO have championed is fish passage to Lake Banook. What HRM, DFO, and the Port Authority have worked out is that the Port will use offset funds to build a fish ladder in Findlay Park, while HRM will replace the Hawthorne culverts. The new fish ladder will approximately follow the route of the existing spillway (where all the yellow irises grow). Yesterday, Council approved this plan.
The next year and a half will be busy on Banook with the Canoe Sprint World Championships this summer and then the North American Indigenous Games next year. The tentative plan is to start construction of the fish ladder after NAIG concludes in July 2023. HRM would replace the Hawthorne culvert the following year in 2024. Combining this work with the timeline for the Sawmill River project (2023) means that sometime in 2024, for the first time since at least the 1970s, possibly since the 1840s, fish will be able to travel up river to Banook and beyond.
I want to extend my sincere thanks to the Port Authority for their commitment to this project. There were simpler projects that they could have pursued for their offset funds that would have been easier and quicker, but they have been committed to this one because of its big potential impact and legacy. Thanks to DFO as well for working with HRM and the Port on this. Great things are just around the corner!
HRM has results back on a study of what photo enforcement could look like in HRM. The study and staff provided a positive recommendation to Council on pursuing photo enforcement to improve road safety. Unfortunately, HRM currently lacks the legal ability to implement photo enforcement and it will take a few years to overcome those barriers.
The problem is the Motor Vehicle Act didn’t contemplate photo enforcement and the result is that tickets issued by camera won’t hold up in Court. The Province did pass an amendment to the Motor Vehicle Act to allow photo enforcement, but it was never proclaimed into law and likely never will be because the Motor Vehicle Act is due to be replaced with the Transportation Safety Act. The Transportation Safety Act allows for photo enforcement and mandates that any ticket revenue be put back into road safety. Unfortunately, the Province has indicated it will still be 3-4 years before they’re ready to proclaim the Transportation Safety Act into law. Until then, our outdated Motor Vehicle Act continues to be the law of the land.
While the Motor Vehicle Act doesn’t allow for photo enforcement, it does have a provision that allows the Minister of Transportation to sanction pilot projects. The consultant’s recommendation is to wait for the Transportation Safety Act to be proclaimed, but an alternative would be for the Province to sanction a pilot project. Now that HRM’s staff are armed with a mandate from Council, they will reengage with the Province on photo enforcement to see what might be doable. I’m very much looking forward to the day when photo enforcement becomes a reality in HRM and I’m hoping that HRM and the Province, working together, might be able to make that happen sooner than 2025! Hopefully the Province will be receptive and there will be a way to do this in advance of the Transportation Safety Act.
On-Demand Accessible Transportation:
HRM has awarded a contract for an accessible taxi service. Locally-owned Seniors Transit Inc will operate an accessible service for three years at a total cost to HRM of $1,805,013. This is a big step that has been a few years in the making.
The problem with accessible taxis in HRM has been that operating an accessible vehicle isn’t economical. Accessible taxis cost more to buy than a regular taxi, they cost more to operate, and they’re less profitable. For a taxi driver, time is very much money and accessible taxi clientele typically take longer to enter and exit a vehicle, and travel distances between calls (time that can’t be billed) is typically greater.
To try and overcome these economic challenges, HRM tried creating an incentive program by allowing accessible taxi drivers to skip the taxi license queue and that, paired with a provincial grant program, meant that there was a significant increase in the number of accessible cabs. Unfortunately, that increase wasn’t sustainable and once the Province stopped offering grants, the number of accessible vehicles dwindled back to almost nothing. Experience has now clearly shown that the only way an accessible taxi service will be viable in HRM is if it’s directly subsidized or mandated.
HRM looked at offering a grant program similar to earlier provincial efforts, but that ran into legal issues since HRM isn’t allowed to directly subsidize individuals or businesses. Mandating accessible cabs is also challenging because, for the most part, each taxi in HRM is individually owned. The taxi companies are dispatch services, they don’t own a fleet of vehicles meaning that a halfway point of requiring a percentage of taxis be accessible is just not practically possible. Each cab is a fleet of one! The only real solution is for the municipality to contract its own service, which is what Council approved yesterday.
The new accessible taxi service will operate 24 hour a day, seven days a week, and with the same fares as conventional taxis. The service will start with five vehicles, increasing from there to 10. The service will begin sometime in the next 4-8 weeks. This is a big step that will, hopefully, result in equal access to taxis for everyone.
There were several housing items on Council’s agenda.
Rapid Housing Initiative
To facilitate the federal Rapid Housing Initiative, Council authorized the CAO to finalize agreements with Housing Nova Scotia and the Rapid Housing Initiative’s non-profit recipients. The Rapid Housing funding totals $21,638,548 in HRM and is being used to fund six projects:
- Adsum, 25 units
- Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre, 17 units
- North End Community Health Association, 10 units
- Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, 65 units
- Akoma Holdings, 8 units
- Souls Harbour, 12 units
The net result of the municipal, provincial, and federal efforts is enabling the non-profit sector to create 137 deeply affordable units. This will help a lot of folks who have few to no options.
Affordable Housing Grant Program
Council also approved an increase in funding of $415,245 for HRM’s Affordable Housing Grant Program. The increased funding is coming from the Centre Plan’s density bonusing fund.
All large projects in the Centre Plan area (Dartmouth inside the Circ and Peninsula Halifax) pay an additional tax based on their development’s floor area. A majority of the proceeds from density bonusing are earmarked for affordable housing projects. HRM completed its first call for proposals for the new density bonusing grant funding in December.
December’s call resulted in HRM receiving three submissions for a total ask of $815,245. The program’s allocated budget of $400,000 meant grants have been approved for Affirmative Ventures on Main Street ($162,636), YWCA Welcome Housing in North End Halifax ($180,327), and Compass Nova Scotia on Maitland Street in Halifax ($57,037). The Compass request, however, was only partially funded though because their request would have put the grant program over budget.
With $3,565,089 built up in the density bonusing reserve, the obvious solution to the shortfall is to allocate more money to fully fund Compass’s request. The extra $415,245 that Council approved tops up the initial grant funding so that all three recipients will now receive their full ask. With more money in the density bonusing fund, HRM will be able to make future calls for proposals under this new program.
True North Crescent
Back in November 2020, Council approved the sale of several vacant lots on True North Crescent in Dartmouth North to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia for $1. The intent of providing this land to AHANS for $1 was to enable an affordable housing development. HRM typically requires a buyback agreement in less than market value sales to ensure that the property is used as intended. The reality is that sometimes plans, that have the best of intentions, simply don’t work out and in those instances, a buyback agreement is important because it protects HRM’s contribution.
Since approving the sale of True North Crescent, AHANS has secured $3.7 million in funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to construct 12 deeply affordable units that will have rents geared to income. To enable that CMHC funding, HRM needs to modify the buyback agreement for True North Crescent so that CMHC’s enforcement measures come first. HRM will still have a buyback, but the terms will be different to accommodate CMHC’s program. Council approved revising the buyback requirements and entering into a new agreement with AHANS and CMHC to enable this project.
- Reviewed the Public Safety Strategy update
- Increased contract to cover an emergency purchase of bus tires
- Directed staff to begin the visioning process for Africville
- Assigned the household hazardous waste contract to GFL Environmental Services after GFL bought the contract winner, Terrapure
- Reallocated some surplus supplementary education funding that HRCE had no identified use for to housing initiatives (HRCE supports the redirection)
- Deferred discussion on once again changing how the stormwater right of way charge is collected to gather additional information from Halifax Water and staff
- Opted to once again waive the encroachment fee for street patios
- Increased the budget for the Broad Street roundabout in Bedford
- Annual write off of the very tiny portion of debts owed to HRM that, for various reasons, prove to be uncollectable ($26,124 in Rec fees, $9,593 in general revenue, and $74,879 in property taxes)
- Directed the CAO to prepare an action plan to address issues identified in the Solid Waste audit
- At the request of the Hotel Association, approved increasing the destination marketing levy (assuming the Province approves) and committing matching funds on the HRM side to increase HRM’s tourism marketing efforts
- Requested a staff report on formalizing the relationship between HRM and Every One Every Day Kjipuktuk-Halifax
- Authorized the mayor to write the Province requesting that the Province address the leaking dam at Williams Lake
- Endorsed the Coalition for Healthy Food’s campaign for the development of a national healthy school foods program