What was supposed to be a peaceful protest to protect a forest turned potentially dangerous Monday.
A small group set up a demonstration around clearcutting machinery to prevent further destruction of the Eisner Cove Wetland in Dartmouth, N.S., where a housing development is slated to be built.
Clearcutting efforts in the area were temporarily on hold Monday as some protesters took their efforts to new lengths.
That morning, Jacob Fillmore used a bicycle lock to attach himself to a piece of equipment before crews could come and operate it.
Dartmouth residents protest housing project slated for Eisner Cove wetland
“I just thought that it’s important for me to do what I can to stop this machine from returning and devastating the forest, and this is the best I could come up with,” Fillmore told Global News.
“They obviously can’t operate it if I’m attached to it, and it makes it a little bit more difficult for the police to come in and remove me.”
The 45-hectare development known as Mount Hope Village — led by Clayton Developments — would be located between the Woodside Industrial Park and Highway 111. The goal is to create 700 “attainable” housing units in the area.
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Fillmore said he understands there’s a need for housing, “but this is not the location for it.”
“There’s plenty of locations around the city that could be developed without causing an ecological devastation,” he said.
Dartmouth residents concerned about housing project on wetland
But the protest didn’t go as planned. While the logging crews initially put their work on pause, by early afternoon some crew members started up nearby machinery and began taking down trees.
That’s when protesters say things took a dangerous turn. A video sent to Global News shows crews nearly running over a protester who stood in front of a moving machine before they were pulled to safety by a security officer.
A second video shows Fillmore – who by then had unchained himself from the initial machine – climbing over another machine while it was in use.
Tara Lapointe, one of the people protesting, said the machines shouldn’t have been in use so close to the demonstrators.
“Some of these vehicles here do have signs on the side not to operate within so many metres within individuals,” she said.
“They moved right into our path and started to take down trees right in front of us, which was extraordinarily alarming.”
She said after Fillmore climbed the machine, there was some “back and forth” between him and the operator and both ended up stepping away and “taking a breather.”
Work for the day stopped shortly after, but the group of protesters say they will remain camped out in the area to continue to protest the clear cutting.
Clayton Developments did not respond to Global News’ requests for comment.
In a statement, Halifax Regional Police spokesperson Const. John MacLeod confirmed officers attended the scene. Nobody was arrested, he said.
Bill Zebedee, president of the Protect Our Southdale Wetland Society, said in an interview earlier in the day that his group is not involved with those protesting at the wetland.
However, speaking during a demonstration outside Environment Minister Timothy Halman’s office, he said he too wants to see the wetland protected.
In addition to the potential damage to sensitive wildlife living in the area, he noted that wetlands capture and store carbon.
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“When you disturb a wetland you’re going to release all of that carbon into the air through greenhouse gases,” he said.
“We’re worried that as the trees get grubbed out, and the earth gets grubbed out, we’re going to get silt making its way into the wetland. As soon as that happens, the wetland is dead. It’s gone.”
The province has previously told Global News that there is no evidence of endangered species found in the wetland area, but Zebedee believes it deserves another look.
Last June, the Nova Scotia environment department approved an application for the developer to build a road between Mount Hope Avenue and the proposed development.
That decision is now facing two appeals, but on Monday environment department spokesperson Heather Fairbairn said the appeal “does not suspend the operation of any decision or order.”
“The Minister has 60 days from the filing of the appeals in which to make a decision,” she said.
The department has previously said the site did not need an environmental assessment because one is only needed if development would alter more than two hectares of wetland.
In this case, the wetland alteration approval is for 0.84 hectares.
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