When Mark Currie’s son, Logan, was nine, he would take him to explore Bedford’s waterfront and, in particular, to a tidal reef and a small island that was home to various sea life and migratory birds. “It is one of those places that inspires the imagination,” Currie says.
When Logan questioned the future of the island, known as Crosby Island, and the reef, which is called Western Ledges, Currie decided to investigate. What started as time with his son and a bit of a science class, soon become a lesson in civic action for Currie.
Currie attended a public meeting in June 2010 in which a presentation of the Bedford Waterfront Design Study took place. He says she was disappointed with the lack of discussion on what would happen to the natural habitat during development of the area. His next step was to create a video about the reef, Crosby Island and the animals that live there, which he posted to YouTube. “It created such interest,” Currie says. “I thought I had to pursue this.”
Eventually, Currie, along with Sandi Banfield and other concerned residents got together and formed the Save the Bedford Waterfront Society in August 2012.
Save the Waterfront has been active on social media and its website to get its message out. They have worked with the Ecology Action Centre and created petitions to help save the reef. Banfield spoke with David Suzuki on CBC’s Maritime Noon about the issue. On September 27, 2012, the group held a meeting when more than 300 residents showed up to voice their disapproval of the development.
The group has three goals: stop the infilling of the land on the waterfront; protect the natural features of the Crosby Island, the reef and the natural shoreline; and consult the community about what it wants for its waterfront. Its collective concerns go beyond the natural environment, and include traffic, density and height of the buildings that are proposed.
But plans for Bedford’s waterfront long predate the current community opposition to it. In 1985 residents of the former Town of Bedford initiated a plan for the development and infilling of the Bedford Waterfront, and mapped out a detailed concept plan. Four years later, the then Bedford Waterfront Development Corporation started talking development in 1989. One of the Corporation’s goals, which was listed under its own Act, was to study the “feasibility of developing the waterfront of Bedford and establishing a marine park in Bedford on the Bedford Basin.”
Today, the Waterfront Development Corporation and HRM guide that development. The concept is outlined in the Bedford Waterfront Planning Study, which was completed in 2010. Members of the public and a volunteer steering committee were also active in putting the study together.
There are two phases: Phase I included the development of lands near Dewolfe Park and up to Mill Cove. Phase II focuses on the lands on the other side of Mill Cove. That phase includes a project for the development of a mixed-use project, which would include residential, commercial and green space, and which could bring 6,000 people to Bedford. Other small aspects of both phases include the construction of boardwalks and addition of park benches.
Save the Bedford Waterfront’s biggest concerns is the infilling that needs to take place to create the land on which the new developments will sit. Spots along the Bedford Basin are being filled with pyritic slate, which is dug up from construction. The infilling was approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the OCL Group—Environmental Management Consultants, investigated the concerns around nesting shorebirds in the area. Currie says the slate will destroy fish and bird habitats. Fisheries and Ocean determined the slate, which produces acidic runoff when in contact with oxygen, would not do environmental damage if it remained underwater.
The Save the Bedford Waterfront Committee wants something different for the Bedford waterfront. They are advocating for a coastal park that would incorporate the reef, Crosby Island and the natural shoreline. Currie says that wish is one a majority of residents want, too.
“A large percentage would like to see a park,” Currie says, adding part of their mandate is sharing the development plans with those residents who still don’t know. “It’s remarkable that once they find out, they’re against it.”
Banfield agrees. “I don’t understand how they can pave in a reef that is a migratory bird and fish habitat,” she says. “I think that is inherently wrong.”
All development has been on hold since September while HRM completes its transportation study for Bedford, which is expected to be finished in March. The infilling is on hold, too. Public concerns, however, have not ceased. Save the Bedford Waterfront continues to meet and get the word out. They have events and workshops planned for early this year. Colin MacLean, president and CEO of WDCL, says his organization continues to work with the community and have encountered various views on what should happen with Bedford’s waterfront, with ideas ranging from those included in the original plan from more than 20 years ago to leaving waterfront untouched.
“It’s heartening that everyone wants to develop the waterfront, but it’s in what kind of way,” he says. “Our goal is to leverage the asset for public benefit. I think together we can achieve something that meets everyone’s needs,”
As for the reef, MacLean says if the area is proven to be a unique natural feature, then of course its future will be taken into account in the development.
MacLean says the goal for the development is that it be sustainable, but Currie says he would like the WCDL to be leaders in environmental stewardship and save the reef. MacLean says their goal is to find environment solutions that take into account everyone’s needs.
“I think stewardship is not just about conservation and preservation, but it’s about lots of other things,” MacLeans says. “You have to be thoughtful on how you develop and where you leave a footprint.”
Save the Waterfront’s wants to have their voice heard at the top. While they have connected with local politicians, including MLA Kelly Regan, MP Geoff Regan, and their Bedford Councillor Tim Outhit, their goal is to connect with Premier Darrell Dexter, who they say is the only one who can stop the infilling. So far, they’ve been unsuccessful in securing a meeting with the premier.
“We have to stand up now or well will have nothing left,” Banfield says. MacLean says while they are waiting for the results of the HRM’s transportation study, the WDCL is willing and continues to work with all of the parties involved for plans for the waterfront.
“I think together we can achieve something that meets a lot of needs,” he says. “It’s worth the effort and you can create better design.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.