Concerns about Canso Spaceport shared at community meeting

By Lois Ann Dort    

CANSO – Canso area residents had an opportunity to hear panelists from different areas of expertise express concerns about the planned Canso Spaceport project on Thursday, Aug. 1 -- and share their own concerns about the project.

Last spring the Canso and Area Development Association presented local MLA Lloyd Hines with a petition in support of the proposed Canso Spaceport planned by Maritime Launch Services (MLS). However, the petition, along with reportedly good discussions between MLS and the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen’s Association and environmental approval in June 2019 by the Minister of Environment, have not stopped a rising tide of opposition towards the project in the Canso area. Last week, a public meeting was held at the Canso Lions Club with invited panelists to discuss concerns about the spaceport.

The discussion began at 6 p.m. with approximately 100 community members in attendance, some of whom had signed the petition in favour of the development last spring. Panelists included Donald Bowser, an expert in the field of corruption who has worked for Transparency International and now heads his own NGO called IMPACT. His work has largely focused on corruption in Russia and countries formerly part of the Soviet Union.

Another panelist was Karen McKendry, a Wildess Outreach Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre who holds a BSc. in Ecology and a Master’s in Environmental Studies. Chris Surette and Jan-Sebastian LaPierre of A for Adventure, an organization promoting active living and outdoor adventure in Nova Scotia, joined the discussion via video link. The final participant, also linked via video from Salt Spring Island in B.C., was UBC Professor Michael Byers whose work focuses on outer space, artic sovereignty, international law and climate change.

Byers was the first to address those assembled. He focused on the type of rocket MLS plans to use at the Canso spaceport. At the heart of his concern was the hydrazine fuel used in these rockets which he claimed were outdated technology.

“The essential point is that this is an unproven rocket...You could have a lot of hydrazine spread around your community," he said, explaining that in the break-up of the rocket stages residual fuel from the rocket could result in clouds of fuel vapour.

Surette and LaPierre were quick to point out in their opening address that they were not rocket scientists, ecologists or biologists. They stated that their place in the conversation was the promotion of ecotourism in the Canso area. “We don’t want to see that disrupted to chase the dollar,” said LaPierre.

He later added, “I don’t believe that ecotourism is the only answer…I’ll be the first to agree that we need to bring in jobs, but we need something to sustain people for generations.”

Surette added, “This doesn’t seem like a healthy alternative for the community.”

Donald Bowser drew on his experience in the Ukraine, where the company producing the rockets for the MLS project is located, to discuss the political and financial dimensions of the project which, in his assessment, were much like many other failed projects foisted on Nova Scotia in the past.

“When you know what fraud and corruption looks like; it’s easy to recognize,” he said in his opening statement.

“MLS - directly created by Yuznoye…there was no degree of separation between these two entities at that time,” said Bowser adding that the Ukrainian company has no money, therefore any accidents resulting from the spaceport operations will be left to the Government of Nova Scotia to clean up.

That being said, Bowser believes there is little chance the spaceport will ever get off the ground. The issue, he said, is at the end of the day, who benefits. “We’d all like to have jobs. At the end of the day, no way is this going to benefit your community.”

McKendry spoke to the environmental impact of the proposed spaceport particularly on the Canso barrens, the local water supply, and the marine environment. “The main carrot is jobs. I also see communities go another way; what they offer workers is quality of life,” she said in response to concerns about environmental degradation and sound pollution.

“What’s resilient is having several options, not all eggs in one basket,” said McKendry. She also stated that concerns about environmental impacts, including that of the impact of sound, was not well treated in the report submitted by MLS to the government.

After the panelists spoke the floor was open to questions. Canso resident Eugene Newell directed his comments towards the municipal government which he does not feel is acting in the best interest of the people. There was no representative from the Municipality of the District of Guysborough on hand to address his concerns.

June Jarvis, who has lived in Canso for over eight decades, said, “It looks like these people play dirty pool and they’re looking for a new table.” Her concerns focused on the local environment and the flora and fauna that has enriched her life and the lives of others in Canso.

The environment was also a concern of John Armsworthy who said, “This is our environment where our grandkids come home to.”

Byers, in his concluding remarks, after the question and answer period, said, “Make the biggest stink you can and demand a federal Environmental Impact Assessment.”

There were notably no supporters of the project invited to sit on the panel. When event organizer Marie Lumsden was asked about their absence from the meeting, she said that the meeting was public and well-advertised in the area; anyone could attend.