Contentious work in Witless Bay is within scope of permit, says minister

Protesters are still wary of ongoing work in the Ragged Bay area of Witless Bay, but the minister of municipal affairs and environment says the construction falls under the parameters of the permit issued for erosion control.

A group of people opposed to the development on the beach, who say there's no clear communication about why the work is being done, stood in front of heavy equipment last last week in an effort to delay the construction.

The work on the beach has been the source of tension, with protesters arguing the retaining wall project will result in a road moving across the beach to a swath of land that's been the rumoured target of development.

Witless Bay resident Lorna Yard, who was one of the protesters at the beach last week, said there isn't clear communication about what the development is for, and why it's happening.

"We can't stop this, and we don't even have all the information about what's going on. I have never seen a drawing," she told CBC's St. John's Morning Show last week.

I was talking to the mayor so I have his assurance that everything is being done within the scope of the contract. -  Derrick Bragg

"We're just putting out fires as fast as we can here, and that's why we've been begging the premier and the provincial government just to come out of the shadows and shut this down."

Yard argues there doesn't seem to be any oversight of the scope of the project.

"We don't have the authority to stop it and that's what we're calling for, is somebody in authority, for the premier or government or somebody to step in here and give us a minute to catch our breath," she said, arguing that the Ragged Beach area should be left undeveloped as is.

"There's no reason we can't save it. There's lots of land in this town for people to build [on], but you have to protect, also, what makes you special."

In light of the tensions and debate in Witless Bay, Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Derrick Bragg sent department officials to the beach late last week and over the weekend to inspect the work being done.

"The work appeared to be very professional and within the scope of the permit," Bragg said, adding that there was no environmental assessment done because it isn't required for the type of permit issued.

"This is a water resource issue because it's within 15 metres of a water body so we didn't need environmental assessment. This is to shore up the parking lot."

'Be a good steward for the environment'

While Bragg said he understands there are tensions in the community because of recent development projects, the erosion wall is the only project that falls under his department's jurisdiction.

"It adds up, but for the case of my department, we're just looking at this water resource place and I guess the shoring up and the making safe [of] the parking lot. This is what we fall under," Bragg said, adding that he's had multiple emails from protesters and he knows they are concerned.

"I was talking to the mayor so I have his assurance that everything is being done within the scope of the contract. I have no issue — I could meet with this group whenever they wanted to, but it would have to be on whatever the issue was relating to my department."

Meg Roberts/CBC

Bragg added that the development falls under the municipality's jurisdiction, so he doesn't know the full scope of plans.

"I'm not aware of what the long-term vision is; I'm just dealing with this as the answers come forward to us. The town will be the people you'd have to talk to about the long-term planning for that area," he said.

However, he encourages anyone with concerns about developments and projects to come forward the way people in Witless Bay have.

"I encourage everybody to be a good steward for the environment and anything that they see that's out of the ordinary, they should report to us. It's very important," Bragg said.

"That's the best way we can police what happens in our environment — the people police it, they see whatever's going wrong."

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