Nova Scotia community groups, advocates launch campaign to save Owls Head

Click to play video: 'Community rallying to stop sale of Owl’s Head park'
Community rallying to stop sale of Owl’s Head park
WATCH: A park reserve that was once slated for provincial protection could now be up for sale to a developer. But as Alicia Draus reports, there are community efforts to stop the sale and protect the park – Feb 6, 2020

Located along the eastern shore is an area known as Owls Head.

For years, it’s been considered a provincial park reserve — it’s even listed as such on the province’s website — but now the land could be up for sale to a developer looking to build up to three golf courses.

“There is an application for purchase of the land,” said Minister of Lands and Forestry Iain Rankin.

“We have to make sure we’re considering economic opportunities, particularly in rural Nova Scotia.”

But the province is taking heat from opposition parties and community groups who say the province should not be able to sell the land, because it should be a protected area.

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The previous NDP government, in fact, added Owls Head to a list of areas to be protected.

“For over four decades, people in the Eastern Shore have had a shared understanding that there was some sort of protection around Owls Head,” said NDP leader Gary Burrill.

“It was moving on the basis of extensive public consultation to be formalized as a protected area in the province.”

But in December, the CBC reported the province had quietly removed the area from that list months prior, opening it up for sale.

Burrill says the government should not have been able to do that in secret.

“It ought to be illegal,” he said.

“Surely the government ought to be required to go at least through the same level of public consultation that it got through in order to get Owls Head put in the first place on the pending list.”

The province maintains that Owls Head had never been put forward as a priority for protection during their mandate, but says there will be public consultation before the developer can move forward with any plans.

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“We have a public engagement requirement in the letter of offer,” said Rankin.

“So we want to make sure if there is a project that goes ahead that there is public buy in and the community’s on side with that.”

But many in the community are pushing back. A Facebook group dedicated to saving the area has been created and has over 2,600 members, and Nova Scotia’s Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has started a letter campaign to show the province the community wants to keep the area protected.

“We’ve had over 2,000 submissions through that page,” said Caitlin Grady with the society.

Click to play video: 'N.S. premier officially met with newly formed forestry transition team'
N.S. premier officially met with newly formed forestry transition team

Grady says it’s important for the government to understand the devastation if the developer moves ahead with plans to put in golf courses.

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“It’s an ecological hotspot, so we see lots of really important coastal ecosystems, habitats for species at risk, and migratory birds like piping plovers [and] barn swallows,” she said.

“Owls Head is public land that is on the eastern shore, only about five percent of Nova Scotia shore is public and protected.”

Premier Stephen McNeil, meanwhile, says he has received a lot of letters about the issue, but stands by his view that the property is not protected.

“That property was never protected,” he said. “That property will go through the process that it’s going through whether or not it’s going to be sold or not. That will be determined at a future date.”

But community groups are not giving up.

A GoFundMe has been created to help with legal costs to take the matter to court, and a rally is planned to be held in front of the legislature later this month.


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