Documents show Nova Scotians urging minister to proclaim Coastal Protection Act
Some people express concerns about the act's impact on property values, sales
Nova Scotia Environment Minister Tim Halman has said his government's delay in enacting the Coastal Protection Act is due to a large volume of feedback received from the public, but documents obtained by CBC through access-to-information laws show the majority of that correspondence calls for Halman and his government to get on with it.
"This inaction on a necessary environment policy that came out in 2019 is abhorrent," an unidentified person wrote in March following Halman's announcement that the process would be paused for more consultation.
CBC requested all feedback the Environment Department received on the issue from Aug. 31, 2021 — the day Halman was sworn in as minister — until June 16 of this year. The request produced 178 responses, the majority of which supported the act.
But Halman told reporters Thursday that people have reached out to the government in other ways, including through their local MLA, to voice concerns.
"That feedback has been very critical in us determining it's absolutely important that we have a targeted consultation with property owners," he said. "And if you look at previous consultations, that didn't happen."
The act passed with all-party support in 2019, including from Halman who was an opposition MLA at the time. There have been two rounds of public consultation as the act and its regulations, which are intended to outline where people can and cannot build along the coast and protect features such as sand dunes, have been developed.
A year ago, Halman said the act would be ready to come into force in the first half of 2023. Last March, the minister backed away from the promise and said the regulations still needed work and he could not say when the government would enact the law.
However, the documents obtained by CBC make clear that the majority of people contacting Halman's department — most of them private citizens — are unhappy with the continued delays and want the province to take action.
"Delaying the implementation of the act is irresponsible and shows, once again, how the environment ... takes a back seat to developers," one person wrote.
An unidentified member of the Nova Scotia roundtable on environmental and sustainable prosperity wrote to the chair, Scott Skinner, and used a reference to the cartoon Peanuts to describe Halman's decision to seek more consultation.
"Just as we were ready to celebrate this historic moment, Lucy has pulled away the football. Again. Sorry Charlie Brown."
'Continued reluctance is costing the planet'
Another person wrote to Halman in early June to say his "continued reluctance is costing the planet, and if there continues to be a minority of ignorant property owners, as there always will be, the environment needs to be the winner and they need to live with" the act.
Municipal officials in the County of Lunenburg, who have raised concerns with the provincial government about development along the coastline there, also contacted the province.
"The protection of our shorelines and sensitive coastal ecosystems is the responsibility of both the province and the municipality," Mayor Carolyn Bolivar-Getson wrote in a letter to Premier Tim Houston calling for the act to be proclaimed.
"The time is now for both levels of government to take immediate action to fill these gaps."
The mayor of West Hants Regional Municipality, Abraham Zebian, wrote to Halman to say that the delays by the province were affecting the municipality's ability to make changes to its own planning process to regulate shoreline development in alignment with future regulations.
"Proclamation and enforcement of the act would serve to educate unaware property owners, while protecting areas at risk from development."
Act will 'significantly affect' sale and purchase of property
Not everyone who contacted Halman, however, was in favour of the act.
Although there were concerns from some municipalities about the potential of the province downloading responsibilities on them and the lack of available professionals to perform assessment work, the handful of most vocal concerns contained in the documents came from people working for real estate companies or looking to buy or sell land.
"I need to provide accurate information to my buyers and sellers in land transactions," writes an unidentified person who works for Cape Breton Realty.
"This act will significantly affect the sale/purchase of property here in Cape Breton."
A representative with Duckworth Real Estate in Kingsburg wrote to an Environment Department official to say that the money spent on the act and "the money and delays that this is going to cost coastal property owners would be much better spent preparing vulnerable shore roads for sea level rise."
"Municipalities could issue building permits in questionable coastal locations on the condition that no level of government is in [any] way responsible for any damages caused by the ocean."
Members of the Marvins Island Owners Association, which represents landowners near Chester Basin, wrote Halman to say the value of properties there is "heavily weighted" on people's ability to redevelop smaller cottages into full-size homes, and that the act could prevent that from happening at many sites.
"What are the government's plans to compensate property owners for this loss of market value.... Is there a process in place to lower property assessments for municipal tax calculation purposes based on the impact of the regulations?"
The group requested further consultations.
Other people wrote to the department looking for a timeline for proclaiming the act or to inquire if a piece of property they were looking to buy or sell would be able to be developed once the act comes into force.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill, who was part of the government that introduced and passed the bill, said Halman and the Tories have failed to provide a good reason for delaying proclamation of the act.
"We're looking at just this past year extreme weather events that have wracked our province, caused havoc on people's lives and destroyed their homes," he told reporters.
"This act could ensure that people who are building, who live along the coast know what they're getting into and are better protected."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said it's "mystifying and upsetting" that a piece of legislation passed with all-party support four years ago continues to sit on the shelf.
"In a province that is surrounded 98 per cent — and probably growing — by water, we need to do everything we can and pull out all of the stops to meet this climate emergency and to make sure that we have a liveable province for people."
Halman said his department has hired Group ATN Consulting Inc. to do the next round of consultations, which he expected to begin this fall.
On Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Halman's department said the cost of the work can not exceed $99,768.