Nova Scotia

Rock wall built by landowners impedes beach access, say Pictou County residents

Beachgoers in Pictou County say a large rock wall built by landowners to protect their property from erosion impedes access to a popular beach, and they worry it could set a dangerous precedent for beach access in Nova Scotia.

Lands and Forestry maintains wall at Black Point Beach is on private property

Landowners added to this armour rock wall at Black Point Beach in Pictou County earlier this year. (Jack Julian/CBC)

Beachgoers in Pictou County say a large rock wall built by landowners to protect their property from erosion impedes access to a popular beach, and they worry it could set a dangerous precedent for beach access in Nova Scotia.

Wayne and Helen Chisholm built the armour stone rock wall at James Beach, northeast of New Glasgow, in 2017. The Chisholms say they added to the wall earlier this year after a bad storm in November 2018 washed some of it away, along with a chunk of their property.

The rock wall now reaches across the beach and into the ocean during high tide. 

"The beach became completely impassable," said Beth Skerrett, who owns a summer property near James Beach, which is also known as Black Point Beach. "So once I saw that, I was very upset, very concerned because we've used that beach so frequently and because it's such a beautiful beach."

(Maryn Lynn)

Skerrett and other members of a Facebook group called Black Point Beach Preservation Group want to know why the wall was allowed to be built up without any permits. They say it now covers public Crown land, and that it should be moved back to the current high watermark. 

"This is a very dangerous precedent to set," said Maryn Lynn, a co-founder of the Facebook group, which now has more than 400 members.

"As the government develops regulations for the Coastal Protection Act, I hope they keep cases like ours in mind. The purpose of that forthcoming act is to protect the province's coast for future generations, and I want to be able to walk with my son down that beach in the future unobstructed."

Landowners say they're protecting property

But Wayne Chisholm said he needs the wall to protect his property from rising tides and powerful storms. The coastal property has been in his wife's family for nearly 200 years.

He said he's only added rocks to the wall to reclaim the land he lost in the 2018 storm, and estimates he's spent well over $40,000 on the project.

"What I suggest you do is talk to the [Department of Lands and Forestry] and they will verify that the rocks are legal and they're on our land and so be it. That's it," he said.

Iain Rankin, minister of Lands and Forestry, declined to do an interview, but sent an email to Skerrett on Friday.

Rankin said staff visited the site and found the wall is perfectly legal because it's on private property. 

[Lands and Forestry] will verify that the rocks are legal and they're on our land and so be it. That's it.​​​​​- Wayne Chisholm, landowner

In Nova Scotia, people can't build anything on Crown land along the shoreline that's below the usual high-water mark. But the law also states that if a landowner protects the shoreline with a rock wall, and then the high-water mark moves inland, everything behind the original wall is private property.

"In 2017, erosion control work was undertaken on James Beach. No permits were required, as the work was within the boundaries of private land, above the mean high-water mark. In addition, no work was done on submerged Crown land," the minister wrote to Skerrett.

"My children and grandchildren and now great-granddaughter have sat, walked, run, cart-wheeled on that beach for a very long time," says Beth Skerrett. (Beth Skerrett)

He also suggested that she hire a lawyer to determine her rights in this case. 

"I mean it seems odd that property taxpayers in Nova Scotia would need to engage legal representation to protect the use of Crown land against the province of Nova Scotia whose job it is to protect Crown land for the use of Nova Scotians," Skerrett said. "It seems like he's deflecting his responsibility."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston, who is the MLA for Pictou East, sent a letter to Rankin on Sunday in support of Skerrett's concerns, asking what recourse neighbours and beach users have to challenge the province's position.

The Chisholms recently created a gap in the wall for people to use when the water is high. 

But this "compromise" as Rankin put it, does not satisfy Skerrett.

"There is nobody in the world who's going to object to you protecting your property, but move it up," Skerrett said. "Don't build it on land that blocks your neighbours and friends from accessing this beautiful beach for the two months of summer that we get."

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