A pathway plowed through a small dune at St. Margaret's Beach was approved by P.E.I.'s Transportation Department, but the minister says he's looking at reversing or revising the work after hearing from upset residents in the area.
The property owner who did the work was issued two permits. One was to fill in a pathway to the beach on his property that had been used by the public for years. The other permit was to create a new pathway on public property close by, off Bear Shore Road.
"Through a combination of a permit through Environment issued to TIE (Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy) and the residence owner here, there was permission to build this … pathway through the dunes," minister Steven Myers said during a visit to the site.
Mark Bradley lives in Ontario but owns a cottage in the area. He hired contractors to cut through the dune to create a new path and put signs up asking people not to trespass as work was being done. Those signs have been taken down now that the former access to the beach has been filled in.
Bradley said he filled in the path to the beach on his property to protect it from erosion. In addition, he said, the former pathway "was pretty rickety and kind of dangerous."
In order for Bradley to have a crew cut a new alternative pathway on public land, he had to go through the Environment and Transportation departments and receive approvals from both.
"We got some pretty exact direction along with these permits about how to do it and what to do and we exercised [it] to the letter of the law," he said.
Bradley said all the vegetation pulled from the new pathway cut by contractors was replanted right next to where it had been.
"There was no vegetation lost," he said, adding the project cost him about $2,000.
Though Bradley got the proper permit to create a new path, Myers said he is not happy with what has been done.
"I am disappointed," he said. "That would be against my own values or my own principles when it comes to how we treat these environmentally sensitive areas."
Myers said he was at the property Saturday after hearing reports of no trespassing signs in the area, but when he arrived the signs were gone. However, a few days later, he was tagged in a Facebook post. The old access to the beach had been blocked off and a new pathway had been cut near the end of Bear Shore Road.
While Myers said Bradley was within his rights, his department is looking into what local people want done with the area.
"I'm not happy with this project, quite frankly, and we will look at ways to either reversing what we have done here or making it a better project than what it is," he said.
Bradley said he's willing to work with the government on a solution, but thinks it's unrealistic to think the work can be undone.
"They will never be able to fill that path back in and make it what it was," he said.
He added that he feels vilified for doing something he had permission from the province to do.
Myers said that anytime there is a shore access issue on P.E.I., it is a sensitive issue to the people living nearby.
"Our only recourse is to go back to the people of this area and ask what do they want and what is most important to them and bring this to a resolve that is satisfactory."
Gail Larter Dempsey was born on the Island, but grew up in Ontario. She now lives in Nova Scotia and has a seasonal home near St. Margaret's Beach.
"I'm very unhappy because it is through the marram grass," she said, adding there are government signs warning people against disturbing the grass because it plays a role in preventing the breakdown of dunes.
"Here somebody has got a permit to go right through them and it is never going to grow back."
She said she would like to see the area restored and the grass replanted.
"The locals use this beach more than I do and I consider it their beach and a public beach for everyone, and nobody should be altering the shoreline like that," she said.
"When someone new takes up residence, we would be happy to welcome them, but not when they are putting up signs telling us what we can and cannot do."
Myers said his department plans to review shoreline projects such as the one at St. Margarets Beach and how they are approved.
"Here forward they are all going to come across my desk. I'm not going to be unaware of any of these projects going forward," he said.
The province's Environment Department provided no statement on the situation.
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