Following a calamitous HRM presentation meeting concerning the proposed Blue Mountain / Birch Coves last week, the Ecology Action Centre organized a response gathering at Dalhousie University on Wednesday Night, June 29th.
Smoothly run with flashes of passion and humour, and bursting with precise information, the meeting was the antithesis of the previous disaster where no-one was allowed to ask questions and the 300-plus crowd tried to cram into the 85-seater hotel conference room.
The Dalhousie Lecture Hall, with a capacity of 700, was about half full, an astonishing number concerning it was a week full of graduations and looming vacations. EAC Wilderness coordinator Ray Plourde acted as master of ceremonies, blending a talent for disgorging facts and figures with some old-time revivalist oratory that had the audience delivering several standing ovations.
With a table full of allies including The Halifax Field Naturalists, The Halifax North West Trails Society, and Fusion Halifax, Plourde implored the crowd to become ‘Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lake Park Rangers’ in order to save the imperiled Wilderness Zone from a private sector development that may be looming in the near future.
A July 4th deadline for comments to the City will be followed by a mid-month council meeting that could approve the dismemberment of the park. Time is still of the essence and yet opposition to development is still being rallied.
At the meeting there were some optimistic signs. Justice Minister Diana Whalen, a longtime proponent of the Wilderness Area and Park, spoke passionately of her involvement in the project. More importantly, she stated that the Provincial Environment Minister, Margaret Miller, will be weighing in for the Province with an opinion that will oppose any development.
Halifax Chebucto MLA Joachim Stroink stated that the issue had been discussed in the Provincial Liberal Caucus that very day, and concerns had been expressed.
Two HRM Councillors, Jennifer Watts and Waye Mason, attended the meeting to show their support for the Park and Wilderness Reserve in its original form.
Several candidates for the upcoming municipal elections also made statements, including Richard Zurawski for District 12, Pamela Lovelace for District 13, and Lil MacPherson, mayoralty candidate for HRM, all advocating the anti-development, pro-park line.
There were several touching testimonials about the Susie Lake Area, from veteran paddlers to environmentalists to lifestyle enthusiasts who believe that the giant Reserve will enhance the City’s attractiveness to young IT workers.
Several speakers attested to the fact that they are so committed to the park they would be willing to “lie down in front of the bulldozers” or “tie themselves to a tree.” Clearly,the battle lines have been drawn, but hopefully it won’t come to that.
Whether all this passion and commitment is enough to save the proposed Park and Wilderness area remains to be seen. While there is a groundswell of support, and the Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Wilderness Area may indeed be the key issue in this fall’s municipal elections, there’s also no question that it has not yet reached the top of the provincial Liberal government’s agenda.
There is also a creeping suspicion that this is indeed a high-level fix, where the developers and their allies in government have done an end-run around a decade-long democratic process that has led to dashed expectations concerning what was supposed to be the biggest urban nature reserve in North America.
After ten years, the timer seems to be ticking down on the Blue Mountain/Birch Cove Lakes Park and Reserve.
We may know the result in a matter of weeks.
[Photo credit: Halifax Metro – https://twitter.com/metrohalifax/status/748328211457638400]