Armed with a favourable court ruling, a retired biologist and environmental group will seek a judicial review of the Nova Scotia government's decision to remove 285 hectares of Crown land from the pending protected status list.
Jamie Simpson, the lawyer representing Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, said his clients are awaiting a court date. The move follows a decision earlier this month by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court granting Bancroft and the association additional time to proceed.
"We believe that the Department of Lands and Forestry ought to have been letting the public know what was going on regarding these deliberations, regarding this decision-making, and should have offered the public a chance to give their opinion on whether this was a good idea or a bad idea or to provide additional information the minister might not have been considering," Simpson said in an interview.
At issue is the government's decision in March of 2019 to remove Owls Head provincial park from a list of Crown properties awaiting protected designation.
The change, which was first reported by CBC last December, cleared the way for the province to enter into negotiations with Lighthouse Links, a company that wants to buy the land, merge it with adjacent property it already owns and develop up to three golf courses, housing and tourist accommodations.
Supporters of the plan say it could bring much-needed economic development to the province's Eastern Shore. Detractors, meanwhile, are concerned about what development would mean for the area's ecosystem, as well as the way the government has gone about the matter. They note a valuation report prepared for the company said conservation and recreation is the best use for the land.
Earlier this month, Justice Kevin Coady ruled that Bancroft and the association could have more time to seek a judicial review, even though their filing came more than six months after the government made its decision.
Coady's ruling said that although the six-month window had expired, in this case it could not reasonably apply because no one knew about the change until it hit the media. The applicants worked quickly from the time they first learned of the decision, he found.
Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin noted that a final decision about selling the property has not been made.
There is a condition in the agreement with Lighthouse Links requiring a public consultation component and that is there specifically so the public gets a chance to voice opinions on the proposal, said Rankin.
"It's up to them to prove that they have the quality necessary for a fulsome public engagement plan. That is not yet approved."
Rankin said the government followed the appropriate process and protocols for delisting the land.
Simpson said although his clients are pleased to be moving ahead with the process, Owls Head was one of about 100 properties identified in the Parks and Protected Areas Plan still awaiting official protection. Until that designation comes, each of those properties remains as vulnerable as Owls Head, said Simpson.
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