Nova Scotia

Fight brewing over potential golf course in Mabou area

A potential golf course in the Mabou area has some people concerned developers are eyeing protected parkland.

West Mabou Beach Committee doesn't want public parklands going to golf course

West Mabou Beach Provincial Park includes hiking trails, a beach, sand dunes and vulnerable plants and animals. (Communications Nova Scotia)

When Nadine Hunt and a group of volunteers got provincial park designation in 2001 for the West Mabou Beach, the goal was to preserve a special piece of land for perpetual public use.

But now Hunt worries the future of that public use could be at risk as a movement appears to be growing for the development of a new golf course that could infringe on or even take part of the park.

Rumours started in the Mabou area last spring about the people behind Cabot Links wanting to build an 18-hole golf course down the road from their two existing courses in Inverness, but it wasn't until November that Hunt started hearing it could be by the beach.

Then she heard about a meeting to look at the potential of having at least part of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park incorporated into the new golf course.

West Mabou Beach is one of the few publicly accessible beaches in the area. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Hunt, a member of the West Mabou Beach Committee, spoke to former premier Rodney MacDonald, who was at the meeting, in an attempt to get more information. She said MacDonald confirmed to her the company's interest in the location.

MacDonald, who owns a campground near the provincial park, told CBC News he's always been "very supportive of Cabot" and "would love to see another course in Inverness County." He declined any other comment and deferred questions to Ben Cowan-Dewar, one of Cabot's owners.

Cowan-Dewar did not respond to multiple phone messages and an email. While the company has talked publicly about its desire to build a par-3 course in Inverness, it has said very little about a third 18-hole course, including its potential location.

Giving up parkland 'counterproductive'

Hunt said she has no problem with Cabot building a golf course in the Mabou area, but said "they sure as heck shouldn't be allowed to build it on provincial park territory.

"The whole point of receiving that designation in 2001 was to preserve the whole natural environment and the integrity of it. To turn around, potentially, and try to say, 'OK, this would make a great area for a golf course,' is counterproductive."

The triangle-shaped park is about 215 hectares and includes a two-kilometre sandy beach along one side, an extensive dune system, an estuary and trail networks. It is home to vulnerable species of birds and plants.

"It's got a lot of important attributes that make it quite an outstanding little piece of natural resource in our area," said Hunt.

The Municipality of the County of Inverness's warden, Betty Ann MacQuarrie, said she doesn't have many details about the area Cabot would like to use but said "there is a lot of consideration being put forward" to having a course bordering West Mabou Beach.

MacQuarrie said it would be her expectation that, if approved, developers would "make every effort" not to harm any of the plants, wildlife or sand dunes.

Cabot Cliffs is a seaside course in Inverness, N.S., located just north of West Mabou. (The Canadian Press)

Cabot's first two golf courses have provided a major economic boost for the Inverness area. And while MacQuarrie stressed that right now a course in the Mabou area is only a consideration, if it were to happen it would dovetail with recent construction of new homes, she said.

"That area is developing as it is with some tourism accommodations and, of course the beach — everybody travels to the beach," said MacQuarrie.

"There seems to be growth in that area of Mabou, so I think there would be considerably more if it was to be developed further."

MacQuarrie has already heard from people on both sides of the issue. A meeting will take place with all interested parties before anything happens, she said, although a date hasn't been set yet.

Previous golf course plan

Before the West Mabou Beach Committee got the park designation, they fended off a previous attempt in 1999 to build a golf course there, with the government of the day ultimately deciding not to turn over the land to a private developer.

At the time, said Hunt, the community was bitterly divided over the issue. She's concerned even the discussion of another attempt at putting a golf course there would reopen old wounds, and that other aspects of tourism are being overlooked in favour of the high-profile option of a golf course.

The precedent it would set also troubles Hunt. She's written to Premier Stephen McNeil and Natural Resources Minister Margaret Miller asking them not to allow such a development to proceed.

"This is owned by everybody in the province of Nova Scotia," she said.

A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Department said officials are aware of a local meeting to discuss a golf course by the beach, but there has been no formal request from any organization for consideration.

If a request is received, the department would do an internal review and consult with the public and First Nations. Ultimately it would be the decision of cabinet whether to approve a change in designation for something other than park use.