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Dartmouth group fighting to protect last remaining wetland from housing project

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As Bill Zebedee looks over the swath of trees removed from the construction site at Eisner Cove Wetland, he explains his concerns the housing project — meant to address the city’s lack of affordable places to live — may do more harm to the environment than it should.

As president of the Protect Our Southdale Wetland Society, Zebedee says he’s seen several reports done over the past few years that describe the cove as a possible home to species at risk, such as wood turtles, various bats and the black ash — a tree on Nova Scotia's endangered list.

“We believe, because of our independent specialists that have come in here,” says Zebedee. “They've come in and said, ‘I’m 95 per cent sure that you probably have black ash.”

But he says city council didn't have that information when it approved Clayton Development’s proposal for 700 "attainable" housing units at the site in January, a plan that was fast-tracked soon after by the province to address the continuing housing crisis.

With tree-clearing at the site underway, Zebedee has launched an appeal against the developer’s planned road cutting through the wetland, a road he says was originally proposed as a bridge.

While he agrees Halifax needs rapid housing solutions and finds the design proposed appealing, he thinks it should go elsewhere.

“There's a number of spots in HRM that are empty,” he says. “Build it there.”

A spokesperson for the province's Department of Environment, says the work being done won't disturb a large enough portion of wetland to meet the criteria for an official environment assessment, which would only be required if two hectares or more of wetland is affected.

“The developer did submit a request to the department for a wetland alteration for a road...The department reviewed the application with respect to sensitive species of concern,” the spokesperson said.

“No evidence of Black Ash, Wood Turtles or any other endangered species was found within the wetland area.”

Even so, Zebedee isn’t convinced that the assessment was thorough, and plans to bring in independent experts to be sure.

“It’s basically been a steam roller,” says retired biologist and society supporter David Patriquin.

He says he’s worried most about the effect on the entire watershed area.

Patriquin predicts any changes to the wetland and surrounding area will have consequences.

“And it could change the wetland from being a carbon-storing and sequestering system, to one that emits carbon,” he says. “I’m certain, I’m dead certain, that all the species there are going to change and it’s not going to be a good system.”

The wetlands specialist at the Ecology Action Centre says Eisner Cove Wetland is a significant area worthy of protection as the “last remaining wetland in Dartmouth,” even as the province experiences a housing crunch.

“That’s not to say you can't live in near wetland. But there does need to be the proper distance away from the development to the wetland, and the development shouldn't interact with the wetland,” said Mimi O’Handley, explaining buffers must be created to properly protect the flora and fauna that depend on it.

Several inquiries by CTV News to Clayton Developments went unanswered Tuesday.

A request to interview Nova Scotia’s Minister of Environment, Timothy Halman, was declined by the department in light of the society's appeal.

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