A back to the future Council update! I was swamped with the demands of running an election campaign and didn’t get a chance to write a summary of the previous Council’s very last meeting at the end of September. It was a doozy of a meeting though that had a lot of very pertinent Dartmouth items that didn’t receive any real media attention because of the packed agenda. So I’m doing a write up now to cover those Dartmouth items rather than just letting it all pass by.
Agenda, September 29
The most important item on the agenda from a Dartmouth perspective was the staff recommendations stemming from the Lake Banook and Lake Micmac pollution study. This was the study that was carried out in the summer of 2018 to look at both E. coli and nutrient levels in the lakes. The goal was to identify what we can do to improve water quality and, hopefully, reduce the number of days that the lakes end up closed.
The study was completed by Stantec and included multiple sampling sites in both lakes as well as testing of all the inflowing streams. The study indicates that commercial areas (mainly around Lake Micmac) and runoff from roadways throughout the drainage basin accounts for a lot of the nutrient loading in the lakes (58% in Micmac and 66% in Banook). Runoff also shows up as a problem in salt levels, with levels for chlorides in excess of environmental guidelines for freshwater aquatic life. The study sought to identify E. coli sources, and E. coli linked to dogs, deer, birds, and people was found.
So what can we do about it? The immediate recommendations include:
- Change HRM’s approach to street sweeping and catch basin maintenance to reduce the amount of phosphorous rich sediment flowing into the lakes
- Continue the weed harvest since it removes phosphorous from the lakes in plant form
- Inspect the wastewater system to pinpoint any potential E. coli sources from human beings
- Remove the pigeon roosts from under the Circumferential Bridge
- Increase public education around the need to pick up dog droppings
- Continue to monitor conditions in the lakes to identify changes over time
Over the longer term, the study also recommends that HRM change its approach to stormwater management. Right now, when it rains, runoff in many places goes directly into the lakes. Runoff coming down Lakeside Terrace, for example, goes directly into Birch Cove Park from an outfall next to the path. It then runs overland into Banook. Along Prince Albert Road, if you look at the catch basins, you can find the corresponding outflow right below each one in Banook. It’s a direct trip from road to lake. By the Circumferential Highway, there is so much sediment accumulated around one outlet that it has almost made a reef that breaks the surface.
Altering stormwater infrastructure isn’t simple or cheap and will be a long term endeavour. I did amend the staff recommendation regarding stormwater though to add a specific referral for consideration for Prince Albert Road. HRM is about to undertake a major redesign and rebuild of Prince Albert Road from Sinclair Street to Grahams Grove, which creates the perfect opportunity to add some alternative approaches to managing stormwater.
As part of the Prince Albert Road project, HRM engaged consultants who have suggested the creation of artificial wetlands or rain gardens in some of the green areas along the road. The idea is to create places where runoff can be directed in order to remove sediments and nutrients. Unfortunately, the approach is proving to be more expensive than expected and the funding available is inadquate. We shouldn’t let the opportunity to address stormwater coming off Prince Albert Road slip by. Prince Albert Road is going to be dug up anyway and that won’t likely happen again for a decade or two. Council will consider the potential for Prince Albert Road wetlands/rain gardens during budget deliberations in the new year alongside potential changes to streetsweeping, and adding netting and spikes to drive the pigeons off of the Circ.
The finding of human E. coli in the lakes is still somewhat puzzling. Human E. coli was found flowing into Lake Micmac from both Grassy Brook and Lake Charles and in the buried stream that flows into Banook by Brookdale Crescent. After the main study’s completion, HRM and Halifax Water have undertaken a great deal of follow up work to try and further identify sources. Dalhousie University has been involved in the follow up sampling. Halifax Water undertook a fairly detailed investigation of the stormwater system, including dye testing, but has so far been unable to identify any crossconnections in the stormwater/sewer infrastructure. Some of the E. coli is likely coming from leaking septic systems farther upstream beyond Halifax Water’s service boundary, but the source for it all remains unknown. HRM will continue to work with Halifax Water and engage the Department of Environment to try and resolve this issue.
I’m very pleased with the return of the lake study. The first step to resolving any issue is to first understand it. The study that I initiated in 2018 was the first step to doing that and now we have concrete recommendations for HRM to consider. The effort to protect and improve our lakes now shifts to getting funding during budget deliberations for implementation.
The Dartmouth Post Office is now officially a registered heritage property! My motion to look at the building’s heritage potential generated a positive staff report and recommendation from the Heritage Advisory Committee. There were no objections from Canada Post, so Council proceeded to register the building. What this means is that the stone portion of the Post Office is now protected. This is important because Canada Post has moved to King’s Wharf, leaving the property vacant. Canada Post will put the building up for sale in the near future and registering it now ensures that the building is protected and that the heritage requirements are very clearly known to prospective buyers.
Registering the Post Office doesn’t mean that there isn’t redevelopment opportunity. Development and heritage are sometimes portrayed as zero sum options, but that’s most definitely not the case, especially for a site like the Post Office. The Post Office sits on a very large piece of property, which includes the surface parking lot that stretches all the way down to King Street. It’s very underused land. There is ample room to both retain the Post Office and add complementary new development to give the space new life.
Hopefully Canada Post will be in a position to list the Post Office soon as it’s doing no one any good having it sit vacant. It will be exciting to see what the next chapter in the Post Office’s history brings, especially now that the best of its past is protected.
If you’ve followed my blog or newsletter over the last four years, you’ve likely read about the Sawmill River project at some point and how the next phase has grown to be so much more than daylighting a river. The project now involves improvements to transportation and public spaces all along the still buried section of the Sawmill River from Starr Park to the Harbour. The plan is to extend Dundas Street into Dartmouth Cove via a new bridge across the River, redesign the intersection of Prince Albert, Portland, and Alderney (PAPA), and connect the Harbour and Banook Trails via a new multi-use trail that parallels the River. HRM has finalized the design for the project and just needs to acquire a few parcels of land for everything to be shovel-ready. It could, tentatively, be a 2021 or 2022 construction project!
The biggest remaining challenge is how to pay for the project. The estimated cost for the new Dundas Bridge is $4,000,000. If Dartmouth Cove was a greenfield suburban site, developers would have to pay for the entire cost of the transportation improvements. It’s a little more complicated in the core though because, while the new infrastructure benefits Dartmouth Cove property owners, it also provides benefits to a much larger area. It’s hard to completely untangle the two and it’s not fair to expect Dartmouth Cove property owners to 100% fund infrastructure that also serves broader objectives in Downtown Dartmouth and HRM.
With that in mind, what was before Council was a recommendation for staff to prepare a capital cost bylaw that will share the cost of the new Dundas Street Bridge between HRM and Dartmouth Cove property owners 50/50. HRM will pay for the estimated $4,000,000 cost upfront and then property owners in Dartmouth Cove will pay their proportionate share as the lands in Dartmouth Cove are redeveloped (HRM will collect from each as permits are applied for).
The Sawmill/Dartmouth Cove project is one of the most important projects underway in Dartmouth. I’m very pleased to see it getting very, very close to being shovel-ready and for HRM to be moving onto the very practical exercise of figuring out how we’re going to pay for it.
Washroom and Drinking Fountain Strategy:
For the last 2-3 years I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HRM’s washroom strategy. HRM doesn’t provide many public bathrooms outside of municipal facilities like libraries and transit terminals. They’re not a common feature in our parks and public spaces. The ones we have tend to be old and in poor condition. It’s an area that has really needed a comprehensive plan.
In District 5, the main washroom complaints that I have received over the last four years concern the poor condition of the washrooms at Penhorn Lake and Grahams Grove, and the lack of washrooms at Sullivan’s Pond/Lions Beach, and at the Park Avenue Oven on the Dartmouth Common. There have been other concerns from time-to-time, but these are the four that reappear in the inbox with predictable frequency. With Penhorn Lake getting a new washroom over the summer, one of District 5’s top four has been dealt with, but hopes for the other three are more mixed.
The good news first is Grahams Grove is identified in the Strategy for replacement. It doesn’t appear that I will have to go to bat to defend the need for a new building at Grahams Grove to replace the existing decrepit washroom and consolidate the collection of trailers that the Kiwanis and Dragon Boaters currently have in the park into a new building. The Strategy supports that project and it is part of the draft capital budget for 2021.
Unfortunately, my hopes to fill the need for new washrooms on the Dartmouth Common and at Sullivan’s Pond seem dashed for now. The Strategy focusses on upgrading and replacing existing facilities that are in poor condition and there is no shortage of those due to many years of limited investment. The only new washroom locations proposed in the strategy are Gorsebrook Park, Merv Sullivan Park, Chain of Lakes Trail, and Shearwater Flyer Trail. With HRM’s current resources, it’ll take 14 years to build those four new washrooms and upgrade all the existing locations, meaning we’re going to have to wait or Council will need to speed things up by investing more money. The strategy does commit HRM to working with community partners so it might be possible to increase the priority for potential projects on the Common or at Sullivan’s Pond with involvement from others, but for right now, seasonal portable facilities seem to be our only option.
Alcohol in Dartmouth Parks:
Council approved changes to the Municipal Alcohol Policy to add the Oven in Leighton Dillman Park and Ferry Terminal Park to the list of locations where alcohol can be served with a Special Occasions license. The change was prompted by a request last year from the B’y Local group. As part of their Dog Days of Summer activities, B’y Local was seeking to hold an event at the Oven, which would have included pizza making and local craft brew samples. They couldn’t get permission, however, because the Dartmouth Common wasn’t identified as a site where alcohol is allowed. Ferry Terminal Park around the boardwalk has also been the subject of past requests and was in the same boat.
Including the Oven and Ferry Terminal Park in the Municipal Alcohol Policy means that event organizers can now potentially get a Special Occasions license in either location. This doesn’t mean that there will be a free-for-all. To get a Special Occasions license from Alcohol and Gaming requires event organizers to submit a site plan showing enclosed areas and washrooms, fire marshal approval, and security details. Having some flexibility to allow for responsible consumption at organized events didn’t seem like an unreasonable ask given the Oven’s connection to food and Ferry Terminal Park’s Downtown waterfront space.
The world has changed considerably since the request to update the Municipal Alcohol Policy was made and it seems unlikely given COVID that there will be any special events at either location anytime soon. Hopefully it’ll be something that can be successfully done post-COVID when we can once again go back to congregating in larger groups.