Bitter dispute over old beach road pits Cape Breton community against owner
Landowner has blocked vehicles in, put chains across road that have been torn down
Private-property signs removed, ropes and chains ripped down, angry words, and vehicles blocked from leaving a dirt road have all accelerated a dispute involving access to the shoreline in the small community of South Bar in Cape Breton.
The dirt road off Highway 28 in South Bar has been used by the small community north of Sydney, N.S., since the 1800s. There was once a lighthouse at the end of the road, as well as old military instalments from the Second World War. It's been used by the community for generations to access the shoreline and sandbar.
Between 2009 and 2011, Katannya Kayler, who is originally from British Columbia and is the owner of an RV campground on the shores of St. Anns Bay in Cape Breton, purchased two parcels of land in South Bar totalling about four hectares.
The land she owns includes the old dirt road that leads to the shore. It's the easiest way to access the sandbar beach, which is owned by the provincial Department of Natural Resources.
Over the past few months Kayler, who told CBC News she doesn't want strangers on her property, has been blocking the road in a variety of ways. She's put up private-property signs, no-trespassing signs, caution tape, ropes and even chains to block the road. They've all been torn down by people in the community.
The dispute is another in what appears to be a growing number of conflicts in Nova Scotia between property owners and local community members over access to shorelines. Some have ended up in court, including one outside Halifax that's currently being litigated.
In the South Bar case, Kayler has used her own vehicle to block people who use the road from leaving.
"She blocked us in for a good 15 to 20 minutes," said Paula Marsh, who was stopped from leaving the road by Kayler. "It was just so she could be mean to us. She just wanted to lecture us and yell at us."
Marsh said she was out for a drive with her son when she spotted the familiar sandbar in the distance.
"I saw a lady down on the sandbar with her dog. And I said, 'Oh, look, it's beautiful,' and I was like, 'I have not been down to the sandbar in 40 years.'"
The pair said they checked for no-trespassing signs, and found none, so they drove down the dirt road to the shoreline. On the way back to the highway they noticed Kayler's vehicle approaching them.
"I saw a car pulling in. I was driving and I said, 'Oh, OK. So she's a lot closer to the road. I'm guessing she'll back out for me.' And then I could tell that she was a little bit angry," said Marsh. "And my son said, 'Oh, I think she wants to talk to us.'"
Marsh said Kayler then wrote down her licence plate number after refusing to let them leave. After 15 minutes, Marsh and her son were back on the highway home. Marsh said she'll never be back again.
Marsh's confrontation with Kayler isn't uncommon. Kayler said police told her to write down the licence plate numbers of trespassers. She said she has a total of about 35 to date.
"It's not just with my neighbours, it's with the community and whoever else. I'm one person. I'm a senior that wants to retire on my property that I paid for and I pay taxes for. So I don't know. I have not known personally any of these 35 people," Kayler said in an interview.
"I do not know them. I've never seen them before. I don't know why they're there, except for I've seen the garbage they leave behind, the needles, the broken bottles, the torn-up grass, etc. So I don't know who is a drug user and who's not."
Kayler said the escalating situation started because of a neighbour she's been feuding with, and who she accused of using her property without permission. That neighbour would not agree to do an interview.
She has also started building her retirement home on the property, which she said has raised tensions.
"I thought that if I gave people a heads up that I was going to do something this summer by blocking it off. By putting signs up, by putting ropes… I even put chain link up there — they cut through the chain link."
The issue affects a whole community of people who have used the road to get to the sandbar beach for a wide range of reasons.
"As a birder, I go there quite often counting birds," said Steven McGrath, a member of the Nova Scotia Bird Society. "And these counts are used for, you know, scientific research and to understand the migratory routes of the shorebirds."
McGrath, who is originally from the area, has used the road to get to the beach for decades, and not just for birding.
"I've been going there for probably 30 years since I was a kid. So, I mean, a lot of families go down there and there's a beach down there," said McGrath.
McGrath has not used the road to the beach since witnessing Kayler putting up yellow tape across the road.
"So I decided to carry on and drive away," said McGrath. "About maybe 20 minutes later, there were actually two cars parked there, nose to nose. And there were two ladies there. And it looked like they were arguing. So I didn't bother pulling in. I just carried on."
There are other ways to get to the beach. They take longer, but it is still possible by walking from other public places, such as nearby Polar Bear Beach.
McGrath and some people in the community have reached out to the local councillor, Lorne Green, and MLA, Kendra Coombes. So has Kayler.
They've all been told that the politicians are looking into the matter.
Others have jumped onto social media sites to say the road is legally a right-of-way for the public, something that hasn't been proven. Kayler has also hired lawyers to prove the road is hers.
This question of what routes people can use to access Nova Scotia's shores is becoming an increasingly common issue.
"Over 80 per cent of our coastline is now in private hands," said Will Balser, the coastal adaptation co-ordinator with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax. "And as we increase development, all of a sudden, you know, it's not just a road through some field that we're accessing the coastline in. It could be someone's backyard,"
Balser said most of these disputes are solved by individuals in court. But municipalities can also do their part for public access to shorelines.
Kayler said the property is hers and it's unlikely there will be a compromise where the road can be shared.
"We're waiting for the facts. We're waiting for the truth," she said. "And if by chance that there is a public road there and my lawyer made a mistake and my real estate agent made a mistake, it's going up for sale."
Balser, who has seen a lot of these types conflicts, has an additional thought.
"There's an importance of being a good neighbour on both sides. You know, if you do have access over a road, whether or not you do have the easement, it's important to respect the property owners right there and, you know, respect the infrastructure," said Balser.
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