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Halifax’s historic Northwest Arm, haven for boaters, gains protection from infilling

Halifax’s historic Northwest Arm, an inlet famous as a playground for boaters since before Confederation, has received some protection from surrounding landowners who want to fill in the ocean with soil and rock.

Over the decades, some property owners in the area have expanded their lots along the water in the arm — just west of Halifax’s main harbour — in order to add decks, gazebos and wharfs.

On Tuesday, Halifax city council voted to permit infilling only to reinforce walls on private properties and for public uses such as the protection of historic sites or the creation of ferry terminals.

Advocates and local residents have warned that infilling would cause water to rise dangerously during storm surges and restrict boating activities in a waterway that’s been a recreational playground since before Confederation.

The right to build on “water lots” along Halifax harbour was part of a pre-Confederation system, created in an era when transport was often by water and landowners needed the right to erect wharfs for their boats.

This left the infilling applications with regulators with Transport Canada, but after years of lobbying, the federal transport minister has agreed to require those seeking permits to first comply with city rules.

The special deal between Halifax and the federal government is described by city staff as unique to the Northwest Arm, as it recognizes “the historic recreational and other uses” of the area.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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