Nova Scotia's Lunenburg Municipality passes coastal protection regulations

HALIFAX — A rural municipality on Nova Scotia’s South Shore has become the first to pass its own coastal protection regulations after the province abandoned its legislation earlier this year.

The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg voted for the measures Tuesday, completing a process that began in April 2023.

In an interview Wednesday, Mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson said the new rules for land use represent something that will “make a difference in years to come” as people deal with the challenges posed by climate change.

“The days of building right on the shoreline, hopefully, are gone,” she said.

Under the regulations, no new coastal development will be permitted within 30 metres of the top of a bank in order to guard against erosion risk. As well, new residential structures must be elevated 3.97 metres above the average sea level, and no new development will be permitted within 30 metres of coastal wetlands.

The new regulations will only apply to new structures and additions to existing buildings in the sprawling municipality, which surrounds the towns of Bridgewater, Lunenburg, and Mahone Bay.

There are also exemptions for non-habitable buildings such as fish shacks, fish plants and boathouses, which require access to the water, Bolivar-Getson said.

The mayor said her municipality began its move toward implementing its own regulations over a year ago as a result of some development in its coastal areas and after unsuccessfully asking the province to move forward with its stalled regulations.

Then in February, provincial Environment Minister Tim Halman announced that the Progressive Conservative government had decided against putting into force the Coastal Protection Act, which had been passed in 2019 by the former Liberal government with support from all parties in the legislature.

The act would have provided more protection to coastal areas, dunes and salt marshes, and restricted development along parts of the province’s 13,000 kilometres of coastline at risk of heavy erosion.

Instead, Halman said the responsibility would be shifted to municipalities to come up with their own planning rules. Under the government’s plan, municipalities and homeowners have been offered access to an online hazard map that shows the worst-case scenario for sea level rise along the coast in the year 2100.

Bolivar-Getson said her municipality briefly paused its own process in the spring to make sure its data didn’t conflict with the information being offered by the province in order not to confuse local residents.

A number of environmental organizations, including the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre have said the provincial government’s policy change has left municipalities “holding the bag” while Nova Scotians will be left facing an “incomprehensible patchwork of rules.”

The groups along with a number of smaller rural municipalities have said that a uniform set of rules are needed. Smaller municipalities have also said they lack the expertise and financial resources to develop and enforce their own protection plans, although the province has promised draft bylaws to help them out.

Meanwhile, Bolivar-Getson said her municipality’s coastal regulations will be subject to annual checks by municipal staff, and the bylaw has a mandatory five-year review requirement.

“If there is something that’s not working or was overlooked or is working in a way that wasn’t intended, the council has the opportunity to make the changes that are necessary,” she said.

The mayor added that regulations to protect from inland flooding from tidal rivers will be considered at a later date as part of more comprehensive municipal land-use planning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2024.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press