‘Tremendous expertise’ from Halifax watershed advisory group may go unused

Coun. Jennifer Watts to meet with city's Regional Watershed Advisory Board to determine whether the board may discuss certain environmental concerns

The ESSC convened for their monthly meeting at City Hall in downtown Halifax Thursday, Feb. 5. Photo: Jake Saltzman
Halifax’s Environmental and Sustainability Standing Committee convened for their monthly meeting at City Hall in Halifax on Thursday. Photo: Jake Saltzman

Halifax’s Regional Watershed Advisory Board will have to wait for the green light to begin talks on three issues currently before the municipality’s Environmental and Sustainability Standing Committee.

At a meeting at Halifax City Hall on Thursday, the six-person committee ruled to send chairwoman Coun. Jennifer Watts (Halifax Peninsula North) to a future RWAB meeting - where she will speak with the advisory board and then decide whether to permit it to discuss three matters - weed growth in Lake Banook and Lake Micmac, the possibility of daylighting Mill Creek (restoring it to a free-flowing stream) and the quality of lake-water in HRM — in its upcoming meetings.

Allan Billard, chairman of the RWAB, is requesting the ESSC allow it to discuss the three environmental concerns in a letter he sent to Watts before Thursday’s meeting.

“At the end of the day, they’re simply an advisory board to (our) committee,” says Coun. Barry Dalrymple (Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley).

“I don’t see the harm in allowing them to discuss (these matters).”

Dalrymple is one of six councillors who make up the ESSC and is its former chairman.

Which committee is supposed to discuss which issues is a question that has come up before between the two groups. As a sub-committee under the ESCC, the RWAB traditionally convenes on issues before those issues reach the ESCC. But according to councillors Dalrymple and Brad Johns (Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville), extra discussion will help achieve the best results in HRM’s ongoing environmental concerns.

“There is huge value to advisory committees,” said Johns, during Thursday’s meeting.

“I hate - absolutely hate - saying no to advisory committees, especially when they feel passionately about these issues.”

In the letter to Coun. Watts, Billard points out that while there have been lengthy discussions about each of the three issues, the RWAB has not yet had the opportunity to “offer a sound professional airing of the details, options and the possible impact upon citizens in these watersheds.”

As the issues have bounced around the ESSC, the RWAB has not been asked to formally discuss either the weed and daylighting concerns in Dartmouth, nor the quality of the water in Halifax-area lakes.

“We have to stay within the terms of our system,” said Coun. Bill Karsten (Dartmouth South - Eastern Passage, who pointed out the ESSC has already ruled to mechanically harvest the weeds in Lake Banook and Lake Micmac.

“The decision (the ESSC) made is made. There is nothing to discuss.”

After hearing the committee, Watts said she would meet with the RWAB to determine which matter the sub-committee will be able to discuss.

“(This is) an issue we will continue to need to have some discussion about,” she said.

‘Tremendous expertise’ available

Dalrymple said the debate over whether to allow sub-committees to return to matters already under examination by committees involves the terms and restrictions the municipal government places on sub-committees.

“They have somewhat narrow terms of reference,” says Dalrymple.

“But the amount of expertise they provide is tremendous.”

For that reason, Dalrymple says it only makes sense to give the RWAB the chance to at least look at the work the ESSC has done. Just because the ESCC has called for mechanical harvesting in Lake Banook and Lake Micmac, that doesn’t rule out the possibility the RWAB will come up with new ideas.

The ESSC is scheduled to meet again March 5.