Private breakwater follows all provincial rules, ministers say

Coldwater Consulting was contracted by the property owner, a family from Toronto, to build a large rock breakwater. An artist's rendering shows what the development will look like when complete. (Coldwater Consulting - image credit)
Coldwater Consulting was contracted by the property owner, a family from Toronto, to build a large rock breakwater. An artist's rendering shows what the development will look like when complete. (Coldwater Consulting - image credit)

A controversial development along the shoreline in Point Deroche followed all provincial development and buffer zone rules, two cabinet ministers said during question period Friday.

Coldwater Consulting was contracted by the property owner, a family from Toronto, to build a large rock breakwater that, at least following post-tropical storm Fiona, reaches right down to the waterline.

During question period Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker said the construction is "in clear violation" of watercourse and wetland protection regulations under the province's Environmental Protection Act.

P.E.I. Legislative Assembly
P.E.I. Legislative Assembly

He also questioned how the development meets the restrictions listed in the province's coastal property guide, which stipulates that "almost all activity" within the 15-metre buffer zone along a waterway is prohibited.

"Not only did this government permit the development, despite a widespread public outcry as we stand here today, work continues," Bevan-Baker said.

"This government allowed this to go ahead, despite the laws of our province."

Minister of Land Darlene Compton said a building permit was issued for the development because "it was replacing a property that was there before, a building that was there before, and actually, the new property is back further than the existing property was."

Compton's department previously told CBC the development was allowed under a "grandfathering" provision, because a previous structure and rock wall existed on the property. The new construction was allowed to go over the footprint of the old structure.

Legislature of P.E.I.
Legislature of P.E.I.

That "grandfathering" provision isn't specifically included in the Environmental Protection Act. Rather, according to an email from the province, it's based on a "working policy" agreed to between the departments of land and environment, stipulating that structures built on lots that encroach on the buffer zone "can remain there but any new additions or modifications cannot encroach any further seaward."

The same policy allows property owners to reinforce or rebuild existing erosion control structures like seawalls.

"You're insinuating that somebody broke the law, and they didn't," Environment Minister Steven Myers said during question period.

"They followed all of the rules. The contractor followed the rules as prescribed to them. They notified the department that they were doing work in the buffer zone, which they're allowed to do. … It was determined the house isn't inside the buffer zone."

Shane Hennessey/CBC
Shane Hennessey/CBC

Province considering further action

Earlier this year Myers vowed to crack down on property owners who do commit buffer zone violations, by increasing the maximum fine from $3,000 up to $50,000.

On Friday he said his department is considering further action against another property owner whose tree cutting caused significant damage to a nearby oyster lease.

"There are other actions that we are seeking legal advice on taking on the builder because we know that he was flagrant in his attempt to break the law," Myers said. "He broke the law."

Myers said the province needs to expand buffer zones in areas that are particularly vulnerable.

"In some places, we need a bigger buffer zone because of erosion. In some places, we need a bigger buffer zone because of slope. In some places, we need a bigger buffer zone because there needs to be more protection to a particular waterway."

Government can 'only make things move so fast'

Myers said his department is working on a new law to protect Island shorelines and waterways, "but I can only make things move so fast through the government system. We have to make sure that we get this right."

Province of P.E.I.
Province of P.E.I.

Green MLA Hannah Bell said government has to move faster, "because climate change is accelerating. …Right now, all we have is a commitment to increase the fines, but fines are after the fact. We need proactive action to protect our shorelines, to prevent the destruction of our shorelines.

Bell pointed to new legislation set to come into effect in the new year to protect coastal areas in Nova Scotia.

"They have a law which will protect their coast for future generations by preventing development and activities along their shores," she said.

"P.E.I.'s coasts are significantly more fragile than those of Nova Scotia, but we have lower standards of protection. I hear you saying that we are working on it, but we cannot afford to wait."