Nova Scotia

Developer drops controversial plan for golf courses at Owls Head

A plan to develop a golf course at Owls Head in Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dead. The company behind the proposal, Lighthouse Links, issued a statement Tuesday saying it was withdrawing the offer it made to the province in December 2019.

Lighthouse Links blames lack of Nova Scotia government support

This picture shows Little Harbour, N.S., in the upper left, private land in the foreground, and the Owls Head park reserve in the upper right. (Nova Scotia Nature Trust)

A controversial plan to develop a golf course at Owls Head on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore is dead.

The company behind the proposal, Lighthouse Links, issued a statement to CBC News on Tuesday saying it was withdrawing from the letter of offer it signed with the province in December 2019.

"We have concluded that we do not have the support of the government of Nova Scotia necessary to make this project a reality," the company said in its statement.

The proposal was to develop up to three golf courses on 285 hectares of land, along with tourist accommodations and a possible housing development, in what's known as Owls Head provincial park — although the land has never officially been designated a park. Located in Little Harbour, the land is home to what government scientists have flagged as a globally rare ecosystem.

The land was a park reserve and was on a list of properties that might eventually get protection as a park. But that changed in March 2019, when, after years of lobbying by the company, the provincial Treasury Board under the previous Liberal government quietly removed the designation.

Lighthouse Links wanted to merge the land with adjacent land it already owns for the proposed project.

A view of part of the area that made up what's known as Owls Head provincial park. (Submitted by Peter Copus)

The decision to delist Owls Head was first reported by CBC News in late 2019. News of the change touched off protests and a court challenge, which ultimately failed. A judge ruled in July that the issue was not one that should be decided in a court.

Jamie Simpson, the lawyer who took the case to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on behalf of environmentalist Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, said he was unaware of the company's decision when contacted Tuesday by CBC News.

Simpson's clients had been in the process of preparing for an appeal of the judge's decision.

The lawyer said what matters now is how the provincial PC government will respond to the news and whether it will try to find a new buyer to develop the land.

In a statement, Natural Resources and Renewables Minister Tory Rushton said this was a business decision.

"Crown lands belong to all Nova Scotians and we as a government were prepared to consult the public on the future of the area," Rushton said.

Hundreds of jobs lost, says company

The company described its decision to pull out as a lost opportunity.

"Our greatest regret is that the residents of the Eastern Shore will be deprived of what could have been hundreds of new jobs during this time of need," the company statement read.

"In addition, the projected increase in tourism resulting from the project will not occur."

But Chris Miller, a conservation biologist and executive director of the Nova Scotia branch of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, welcomed the news.

"Going forward, the Nova Scotia government needs to tighten up the legislation to prevent this sort of thing from ever happening again," he said.

"They also need to apply legal protection to the public lands at Owls Head with urgency."

With files from Michael Gorman