A stop-work order has been issued to the Town of Witless Bay to halt progress on a proposed development at Ragged Beach — the latest twist in a 12-year saga concerning the strip of public land, according to one resident.
The order, which was issued following an appeal from residents to the Eastern Newfoundland Regional Appeals Board, comes less than two weeks after the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador ruled Deputy Mayor Maureen Murphy was in a conflict of interest while voting to approve development of a road to the beach.
The $6,000 project would directly benefit Murphy's brother, who wanted to develop the road, according to the ruling.
However, according to resident Chris Ryan, the town council voted once again on the project Monday night, without Murphy in attendance.
"They voted again [Monday,] and they approved the motion," Ryan told CBC News Tuesday.
After learning the development had once again been approved, Ryan said he and 10 to 12 other residents began a standoff on the beach at 5 a.m. Tuesday. Following their appeal to the regional appeals board, a stop-work order was issued before noon.
Ryan said he was surprised to see the development back up for approval by council following the conflict of interest ruling, especially in the days leading up to a municipal election.
"I served on the town council of Bay Bulls from '93 to '98, and … leading up to an election, we done nothing. Whatever [came] in we just put on the agenda for the new council that came in. We did nothing but housekeeping bills," Ryan said.
"For this council to be passing motions last night to develop a road when we're ... 14 days out from an election is unheard of."
In a statement to CBC News from Newfoundland and Labrador's Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, election law does not mandate a caretaker period, meaning towns and councils are required to remain functioning until a new council has been elected and sworn in.
'Someone has to do something'
The stop-work order is the latest piece in a series of twists and turns lasting over 12 years, said Ryan — a saga he believes could be long over if the department were to step in.
"The problem in Witless Bay is the land owners at Ragged Beach, their land is landlocked. You can't obtain Crown land to build a private road on private property," Ryan said.
"The provincial government should have stepped in in the last 10 years or so and expropriate the private land at Ragged Beach and give the owners fair market value. Or say, 'Listen, you have a piece of land at Ragged Beach, it's a half-acre. Go find a half-acre on a publicly maintained road and we'll swap it out.' The issue could have been done away with."
In a second clarifying statement, the department said the construction of the road is within the authority of the town council.
But Ryan says he's not sure why officials haven't stepped in in other cases, which could have potentially led to an earlier resolution.
"It's time for somebody to do something. This is ongoing now 11 years, someone has to do something. When is it going to end?"