Feds end talks that could have seen N.S. buy land for golf course development

The federal government is no longer negotiating with Nova Scotia’s Lands and Forestry Department for the sale of surplus Crown land that could have become part of a proposed golf course development.

Lighthouse Links Development Company wants to build as many as three golf courses in Little Harbour on the province’s Eastern Shore. As part of that proposal, the company is trying to buy Crown land from the Nova Scotia government.

The province was also negotiating, on the company’s behalf, to buy 17 hectares of land Ottawa deemed surplus.

Had the province planned to use the land for a public purpose, it could have had the property for one dollar. Because the golf course development doesn’t fit that criteria, the two levels of government were considering a sale for $167,500.

But a spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Canada recently says those negotiations are off.

“Public Services and Procurement Canada is in discussions with [Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Canadian Wildlife Service] on the transfer of the land,” Helena Sergakis said in an email.

“If finalized, the property on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore would remain in the federal inventory. The Province of Nova Scotia has been notified.”

Public feedback will be considered

Chris Miller, executive director of the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said he is delighted, but not surprised, by the news.

“The Trudeau government has been a leader on land conservation in Canada and it would have been shocking to me if they had sold off an ecological hotspot for a golf course.”

Negotiations will continue between the province and company, however, for 285 hectares of provincial Crown land known as Owls Head provincial park.

Last March, the government removed the land from the pending legal protection list in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan. The move allowed Lands and Forestry to enter into negotiations with Lighthouse Links, which hopes to acquire the land to merge it with property the company already owns in Little Harbour.

Miller and others have expressed concern about the land being delisted without consultation. Even after the move was complete, Owls Head remained listed on the government’s website as pending protection for about 10 months.

But a spokesperson for the Lands and Forestry Department said Friday that public feedback on the matter would be considered before any deal is complete.

‘Committed to working with the community’

As part of the letter of offer between the province and company, Lighthouse Links is required to develop a public engagement plan. It must be reviewed by the department.

In an email, the company’s lawyer said they are early in the planning stages for public engagement.

“My client will be looking for opportunities to engage with key stakeholders and the community as this proposed project proceeds, particularly as it relates to protection of the environment,” said Sean Glover.

“Lighthouse Links remains committed to working with the community and government to preserve the legacy and beauty of the Little Harbour community.”

Before a sale could be finalized it would need to be approved by the provincial cabinet. A spokesperson for the province said feedback from the public would be considered as part of those discussions.

Letter writing campaign

But Miller said he takes no comfort in the process because the government did no consultation before delisting the property.

“I don’t trust that they’ll do the right thing,” he said.

He and others worry the development would destroy an ecologically sensitive area that is home to several endangered species and a globally rare ecosystem.

Miller said the outcry over the potential development also shows that people aren’t OK with Crown land along the coast being sold when so little of Nova Scotia’s coastline remains public.

Earlier this week, Miller’s organization set up a website that allows people to send a letter to Premier Stephen McNeil calling on him to protect Owls Head and keep it in public hands.

“Already 1,000 letters have gone in,” said Miller. “That’s a very large response in a very short period of time.”

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