Environment group, retired provincial biologist appeal Owls Head ruling

·2 min read
Lighthouse Links wants to buy Crown land known as Owls Head provincial park to use as part of a proposed golf development. (Submitted by Nick Hawkins and Nicolas Winkler - image credit)
Lighthouse Links wants to buy Crown land known as Owls Head provincial park to use as part of a proposed golf development. (Submitted by Nick Hawkins and Nicolas Winkler - image credit)

A local environment group and a respected wildlife biologist are appealing a recent Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision around Owls Head.

The decision ruled against a request for a judicial review of the way the Liberal government at the time proceeded with the removal of Owls Head from a list of Crown properties awaiting legal protection.

Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association filed the appeal Friday, noting the judge "erred in law deciding that, in light of all the circumstances, the appellants were not owed a duty of procedural fairness."

The appeal also accused the judge of having made a mistake in not applying public trust doctrine.

In a release sent by the group announcing their latest court action, lawyer Jamie Simpson noted: "The underlying question in this appeal is whether Nova Scotians ought to be informed before the government makes decisions affecting the fate of ecologically-important lands, especially those lands that have been identified as protected.

Outrage acknowledged

"We believe the answer is yes and that the courts play an inherent role in promoting fair government decision making."

In her decision released July 30, Justice Christa Brothers acknowledged the public outrage following the discovery of the provincial government's actions, first revealed by CBC News.

But Brothers said the court could not intervene because the decision by the government's treasury and policy board to remove the property from the list, and by cabinet to enter into the letter of offer with prospective developers for the land, was within the government's lawful authority.

But those opposed to the potential sale of the land to a private developer disagree.

"The government should not have the right to unilaterally and secretly do as it pleases with public land," said Lindsay Lee of Eastern Shore Forest Watch.

Golf development eyed

The property — 285 hectares of coastal property in Little Harbour — was removed from the list so the government could enter into a conditional agreement to sell the land to Lighthouse Links, a development company owned by seasonal residents Beckwith and Kitty Gilbert.

The Gilberts plan is to develop the land into a golf community that could include up to three courses, homes, as well as tourist accommodations.

How the Liberals handled the situation was an issue in last summer's election campaign, with some Liberal candidates complaining privately about having to defend the decision.

Bancroft, who worked for the Nova Scotia government for almost 30 years, worried the decision might convince other developers to lobby the province to give up more provincially protected land.

"If the sale of Owls Head proceeds, developers across Nova Scotia will be asking to buy other vulnerable public park lands at bargain-basement prices," he said.

Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton has said he's reviewing the process the Liberals used to delist Owls Head, but he's waiting to see what happens with the appeal before taking any action himself.

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