Province firm on Owls Head despite objections
Public will get a say but on the developer's terms
February 7, 2020, 6:10 pm ASTLast Updated: February 13, 2020, 6:31 pm
The government defended its handling of Owls Head on Thursday, despite continuing calls for the sale of public land to be stopped.
Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin said he is aware of the public’s interest, but has no plans to protect the area. He said the sale to a private developer is still in progress.
He said he’s committed to protecting 13 per cent of the province’s land, and this falls outside of that.
“At this time, and that has not changed, it has not been put forward as a priority for protection to get us to our 13 per cent, which is in my mandate letter,” Rankin told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Owls Head is 267 hectares of coastal land located in the Eastern Shore. Its ecology has high conservation value, containing rare plant species and unique rock formations. It was managed as a provincial park reserve, though it was awaiting official designation as a provincial park.
In December, CBC reported that the government de-listed Owls Head from its parks and protected areas plan and revealed Lighthouse Links Development Company intended to purchase it.
News of the decision and the secret nature of the deal upset many people.
Over 2,000 letters have been sent to the Nova Scotia government through a website created by Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
Over 2,500 members have joined a Facebook page supporting protection of the area.
Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association are seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to de-list the land, and filled legal papers in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last week.
Supporters raised over $12,000 of the $15,000 required for legal fees in three days.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he has received many letters on the issue, but the process continues.
“That property was never protected, that property will go through the process that it is going through,” said McNeil.
Rankin said people will get to have their say in the matter, but exactly how will be left up to the developer.
“In terms of the letter of offer that we’ve put together we have a clear condition to have a public engagement plan that we have to approve,” said Rankin.
The engagement plan will not give anyone the ability to block the development, though Rankin insists the developer wants public support before he moves forward.
“There’s no veto, but from my understanding the developer wants to have a good understanding of what the community wants,” he said.
Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill wants the government to revisit the issue. He said no decision should be made before people can have their say.
“Owls Head ended up on the list of parks and protected pending areas out of an extensive public consultation. So if the area is to be removed from that list there needs to be a consultation of the same scope,” said Burrill.
The NDP plans to introduce legislation that would require public consultation before an area’s pending protected status can be removed.
Have a story idea? Let us know