Toronto Globe and Mail, October 10, 2006


Massive gravel pit will ruin way of life on bucolic coastline, opponents fear

[Rachel's introduction: Mr. Mullin believes that if the governments adhere to a precautionary principle, the quarry will not go ahead. "The rational person in me says it can't go forward based on what we don't know the blasting will do to the lobsters, the marine mammals," he said.]

By Shawna Richer

SANDY COVE, N.S. -- The sign at the foot of Rick and Jill Klein's driveway advertising waterfront property for sale was pitched reluctantly this summer.

Natives of Washington, the recently retired couple paid $149,000 four years ago for the 4.5-acre property on Digby Neck with sweeping views of St. Mary's Bay.

The tidy, century-old farmhouse is their summer retirement home. They winter in Melbourne Beach, Fla., but have fallen in love with Nova Scotia's rugged, bucolic peninsula.

But since arriving, the Kleins, along with hundreds of other Digby Neck residents, have found themselves with an unexpected May-October hobby: fighting a large gravel quarry proposed for nearby White's Cove.

The quarry, owned by Bilcon of Nova Scotia and controlled by the Clayton Group, a U.S. conglomerate that includes concrete manufacturers, will devour 155 hectares of spectacular coastline forest.

Coveted basalt gravel, the result of an ancient lava flow and perfect for asphalt, will be mined and shipped to the United States by freighter from a marine terminal that is also planned. Bilcon will blast, grind and ship about two million tonnes of crushed rock from the site each year.

"An industrial site of that size does not fit on Digby Neck," Mr. Klein said, showing the breathtaking view from his backyard.

"To have this thing going down here... it will compromise fishermen's jobs and people's health, ecotourism, the environment and a community's quality of life.

"It's so quiet here now I can hear a hummingbird coming up from the beach before it crests the hill. That's what put us here. When that quarry comes, blasting 50,000 pounds of explosives once a week, there will be sounds here you'll never hear again."

In a province bursting with postcard-perfect places, this peninsula is one of the prettiest.

Just five kilometres wide and 40 kilometres long, the Neck, dotted with fishing villages and tourist stops, stretches along the southwest corner of the province.

The gentle clam beds of St. Mary's Bay are on one side; rare right whales and the eye-popping tides of the Bay of Fundy on the other. This place is home to some of the best whale watching in North America and is part of the most productive lobster fishery in the world.

Nearly 30 per cent of the lobster sold in North America comes from here.

When the project was proposed in 2002, a petition with more than 700 names quickly followed, as did the formation of a coalition to stop the quarry.

"The threat to the lobster fishery is serious," said Don Mullin, vice- chairman of the opposing group.

"We do not paint ourselves as a bunch of granola-eating tree huggers who don't want development. But the size of the project is completely inappropriate for the area. To have it pushed onto a fragile ecosystem, the culmination of risks is enormous."

Kemp Stanton's family has been fishing off White's Cove for 150 years. He is certain the quarry, once operating, will displace the 33 boats that work the area.

"It's rather insulting," he said, "to find out you're insignificant. That's what we take from this plan. This is the last chance for people like us to prove we can win this. If we can't win this, we can't win anything; it's that sensible that this shouldn't be here."

The project is under a panel review; Bilcon has until Nov. 15 to answer public comments on the environmental-impact statement. Public hearings will follow next year and the company hopes for a green light from federal and provincial Environment departments.

Project manager Paul Buxton said the company has complied with all environmental guidelines, presenting nearly 20 consultants who said the project will do no environmental harm and will benefit the local economy by creating jobs. Mr. Buxton said that if all goes well, Bilcon will break ground later in 2007.

"I'm absolutely convinced this quarry can be done in an environmentally sound manner," he said.

"As far as tourism is concerned, you wouldn't even know it's there from [the highway]. We do not believe there will be any significant, adverse environmental affects.

"The opposition is coming from a relatively small group. They've done a very good job of being heard but that doesn't mean there is unanimous opposition to the quarry; very far from it," Mr. Buxton added.

He said 21 people from nearby Little River attended a recent meeting Bilcon held to talk about jobs at the quarry.

On the weekend, the Kleins headed south for the winter, uncertain of whether they would be back for the long term.

Even Mr. Mullin is considering returning to his native New Brunswick if the quarry comes. But he believes that if the governments adhere to a precautionary principle, the quarry will not go ahead.

"The rational person in me says it can't go forward based on what we don't know the blasting will do to the lobsters, the marine mammals," he said.

"Look, we don't want to protect this place to freeze it in time. We want to protect it because it's precious and fragile. The community has made it very clear it doesn't want the quarry. Would there be civil unrest if it goes ahead? I think there would be. That's not a threat. But this is our way of life, our sense of place about to be compromised."