Move along, Nova Scotia, nothing to see here

Our friend the curmudgeon has been quiet for a while, but the spectre of Detroit’s decayed grandeur propelled him to the keyboard:

Move along, Nova Scotians. There’s nothing for you to see in the grotesque collapse of the city of Detroit. Keep your focus on rural development.

Don’t worry about Halifax. It’s wealthy beyond imagination. There’s nothing wrong with its downtown that arresting a few panhandlers won’t fix. Avoid tall buildings; spread out instead. Never mind that only seven of 16 HRM electoral districts are genuinely urban. You can count on the other nine councillors to keep the urban centre healthy and attractive to outsiders from around the world.

It’s far better to resist the global migration to cities, with their greater opportunity and environmental sustainability. Every effort should be made to help country folk maintain their invaluable lifestyles. God forbid their children should leave home to seek their fortunes, knowing they’ll be welcomed back only if they can be judged as failures.

For the genteel squire, let not the scourge of renewable energy destroy their sight-lines, and nay, let not the gypsum for their summer houses come from local mines. Let them fertilize their hobby fields of elephant garlic with wholesome raw animal feces. May they stand firm against the loathsome tide of treated excrement from city dwellers.

Oh, and beware come-from-aways trying to turn derelict buildings into businesses. They know nothing about local ways.


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A Halifax resident writes her councilor – feedback

Contrarian friend Cliff White doesn’t share Lindsay Brown’s impatience with HRM Council’s decision to spend $50,000 studying the safety of fertilizer derived from the municipality’s sewage treatment plants.

Among other things, she mentions studies that go back eighty years. I’d suggest that studies going back even half that time wouldn’t be testing even half the chemicals, toxins, and metal compounds likely to be found in today’s sewage. Since any cursory search of the literature will show that not all of these products are removed at the treatment plant, three questions arise:

  • First, how effective are our local sewage plants are in extracting heavy metals, toxins and other chemicals before it becomes sludge and then fertilizer?
  • Second, what are the national and provincial standards for levels of these products in fertilizers?
  • Finally, are these standards adequate to protect both the environment and human health?

A quick search of the literature will show that different countries have widely different standards in this regard, suggesting that this is a legitimate area for concern. Given the reasonable scientific concern regarding sewage sludge I don’t think a study of the local stuff is unwarranted.

In an earlier letter, Cliff forwarded information he extracted from a 2009 US EPA Report.

The sampling effort collected sewage sludge from 74 randomly selected publicly owned treatment works in 35 states. Samples were collected in 2006 and 2007. The TNSSS Technical Report provides results for 145 analytes, including:

  • four anions (nitrite/nitrate, fluoride, water-extractable phosphorus),
  • 28 metals,
  • four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,
  • two semi-volatiles,
  • 11 flame retardants,
  • 72 pharmaceuticals, and
  • 25 steroids and hormones.

Some analytes were found in all 84 samples, while others were found in none or only a few of the sewage sludge samples.

After the jump, more extracts from the report, detailing the number of samples in which various chemicals were found. That list will probably scare some readers. Certain environmentalists like to cite such lists precisely because they sound scary, and because they lend a false aura of scientific credibility to their arguments. Such lists are all but meaningless without two essential pieces of information:

  • In what concentrations were the chemicals found? (For many chemicals, minuscule amounts are both routine and harmless.)
  • What level of exposure to people, plants, or animals would result if the sludge were used for its intended purpose? (How much actually gets to people is the real worry, and Cliff’s list tells you nothing about that.)

To answer these questions, scientific risk assessors use a model known as source, pathway, receptor. In the case of a person who eats carrots grown in soil treated with fertilizer derived from composted sewage sludge, the sludge is the source, eating a carrot is the pathway, and the person is the receptor.

For each chemical, the risk assessor will determine the amount present in the sludge, and the amount that might make its way into a carrot and then into a person who eats the carrot. The risk depends on the actual exposure a person might experience. These calculations typically use ultra-conservative assumptions: the receptor is a developing child; the child eats only vegetables grown in soil treated with the fertilizer; Large amounts of fertilizer are used.

This is exactly the kind of analysis used to set allowable levels of Cliff’s scary sounding chemicals. Find the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment (CCME) report on this process here [pdf]. Regular sampling confirms that composted Halifax sewage sludge meets these standards. Dozens of municipalities have safely used sewage sludge for decades, with less advanced equipment that that used in HRM. And let us not forget, Halifax’s sewage treatment plants solved a real environmental menace–the dumping of raw sewage into Halifax Harbour.

For all these reasons, real environmentalists should be delighted, and HRM Council should not waste public money pandering to anti-science zealots who will never be persuaded on this issue. Continue reading A Halifax resident writes her councilor – feedback

Steve Streatch and the Lobby of the Lazy

Contrarian is not the Nova Scotia blog of record, but I don’t want HRM Council’s latest act of craven irresponsibility to pass uncommented upon. Neither does Contrarian reader Lindsay Brown, who writes:

What is it about the Halifax lifestyle that produces more embarrassing stuff in just two weeks than you can put in a single opaque garbage bag? What am I missing?

SteveStreatch-150The facts are simple. Nova Scotia was a pioneer in trash sorting, diversion, and recycling, thanks to visionary provincial legislation. These measures were necessary to slow the pace of landfill growth,  given the horrendous obstacles to siting new dumps. After rapid early progress, HRM stalled at about 60 percent diversion. That means roughly four out of 10 items that could be diverted, composted, or recycled instead require expensive secondary sorting or end up in landfills.

The reason is no secret: Many people can’t be bothered to sort or recycle. That lobby of the lazy, led by Councillor Steve Streatch, famous for fretting that immigrants will dilute Nova Scotia’s population,  persuaded a majority of HRM councillors to reject staff proposals to join many other Nova Scotia municipalities in mandating clear plastic bags for most trash (with a single opaque bag permitted for unmentionables and unviewables).  Moistened finger to the wind, Mayor Peter Kelly followed the noisy band.

Someday, a future mayor and council will have no choice but to do the right thing and pass the rule it rejected this week. The financial, environmental, and most of all,  political cost of siting new landfills will force their hand. In the meantime, we will waste more money and cause more damage to the environment. Thanks, boys.

Real parking czars don’t stop at tickets – updates

Extreme Contrarian friend BT writes:

I support execution for people who violate the parking ban. Humanely, of course. Deputize the plow drivers so they can haul the outlaws out of their beds on the spot and shoot them in the back of the head, Chinese-style. (“This ain’t no feather-duster I’m packing.”) Many Halifax drivers are smarter than coyotes, so after half a dozen or so shootings, the streets will be clear. Real clear, if you get my drift.

More moderate Contrarian reader JS has paid three tickets for his son’s lack of access to parking at night—the plates are still in Dad’s name.

In the case you describe as in probably many other similar situations, we are left with the choice of the devil and the deep blue sea. Surely someone could come up with a permitting system for those who have no reasonable choice. It disturbs me that there are numerous examples across the country of reasonable accommodation for winter parking yet HRM does not seem interested in any compromises.

Halifax’s parking czar relents—for now

Halifax’s unaccountable parking czar Ken Reashor used his arbitrary powers yesterday to end the Halifax peninsula parking ban 26 days earlier than expected.

The ban held sway for 84 days, from December 14 through March 4. I can’t find actual snowfall data for that period, but the table below (sources here and here) shows average snow conditions in Halifax (the only data available to officials when they impose the ban).

Halifax snow

So in an average year, the 84-days period from December 14 through March 4 would include about 16 days with snowfall and about 68 without.

Why not target the 16 days when a ban is actually needed, with towing blitzes and much stiffer fines? Why not focus on the miscreants who actually interfere with snow removal and stop inconveniencing responsible car owners for an entire winter? It’s not as though Halifax sends trucks around on non-snowy nights to push snow back to the curb.

Ah but it’s so much more convenient for snow-removal bureaucrats to kick everyone off the streets all the time. Much more lucrative, too. Czar Reashor’s raiders issued 7,637 tickets during the ban, for a windfall revenue of $381.850, 81 percent of which presumably came on nights when no snow fell.

Czar Reashor is unaccountable in that city council can neither fire him nor tell him how to do his job. Only provincial transportation minister Bill Estabrooks can do that. Estabrooks, who represents a part of HRM where the ban is not imposed, bobs and weaves on the topic, insisting he needs direction from HRM Council and a change in legislation before protecting citizens from over-reaching bureaucrats. He’d sing a different tune if they ticketed in Timberlea.

Non-peninsular HRM councillors, who get the windfall revenue but not the aggravation, smugly stall for time. Two weeks ago, they rejected downtown councillor Dawn Marie Sloane’s  proposal that council write Estabrooks asking him to ease up on the ban. Outlying councillors insisted a committee first study the issue—and report back once the 2011 ban is moot.

In the Great Scheme, this is a small issue. But it is emblematic of the arrogance that overtakes people with power: the comfortable notion that citizens must serve the convenience of officials, not the other way round.

Snap your finger, Bill

Estabrooks-150Dartmouth Cole Harbour MLA Andrew Younger has pulled off something remarkable: He has outflanked the most populist politician in the province on an issue of populism.

Earlier this week, Younger challenged Transportation Minister Bill Estabrooks to use his ministerial powers to lift HRM’s hated overnight winter parking ban, implemented last month by fiat of the city’s unelected, unaccountable traffic tzar.

The response from Estabrooks, normally one of the most adroit and citizen-connected politicans in Nova Scotia, sounded uncharacteristically  stuffy:

I’m not going to interfere in the winter parking ban,” he said. “I’m going to wait to see what the councillors advise me and what they expect from me. It involves new legislation, if we’re going to change some of these things it will be with legislative changes made in the spring session of the legislature. This is not something that at the snap of a finger can be corrected.”

I’m not going to interfere in the winter parking ban. I’m going to wait to see what the councillors advise me and what they expect from me. It involves new legislation, if we’re going to change some of these things it will be with legislative changes made in the spring session of the legislature. This is not something that at the snap of a finger can be corrected.

But a quick perusal of the relevant legislation shows that it can be corrected with the snap of a finger—Estabrooks’s finger. If unelected municipal officials were slapping $50 tickets on windshields in Estabrooks’s Timberlea-Prospect riding, the minister’s fingers would be veritable castanets.

Younger-150The blanket ban is a classic case of over-reach by the nanny state. Yes, the community has a shared interest in snow clearing, and on-street parking can interfere with that process. A parking ban limited to times when snow is actually being cleared would be a reasonable accommodation of another shared community interest: the availability of parking spaces for residents and back-shift workers not rich or lucky enough to have access to private, off-street parking.

But traffic tsar Ken Reashor evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation. Because an intermittent ban, limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, means that some car-owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms, Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city with a blanket, four-month ban. To justify this, he invokes a specious claim of public safety, when the real goal is bureaucratic convenience.

Estabrooks says he’s waiting to hear from HRM council on the matter, but councillors in districts singled out for selective enforcement of the ban have long protested, just as Estabrooks would protest if anyone tried to enforce it in his district. Worse, provincial legislation establishing traffic authorities has been deliberately designed to shield these bureaucratic entities from municipal oversight—or political oversight of any kind.

This anti-democratic structure empowers Reashor to enact whatever parking rules please him, and HRM council is powerless to interfere. Indeed, Estabrooks is the only democratically elected official with the power to curb Reashor’s abuse. Waiting ’til spring to end a ban that will be over by then doesn’t cut it.

For heaven’s sake, Bill, exercise the common touch that has made you a democratic icon. Voters trust you to protect citizens against crap like this. Snap your finger.