Nova Scotia

Documents give details about controversial golf development in coastal N.S.

New court documents show the going price for 285 hectares of coastal Crown land on Nova Scotia's eastern shore is based on the area being used for conservation and recreational purposes, but not as part of a major proposed golf development.

Record filed in N.S. Supreme Court by province includes value of Owls Head provincial park

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

New court documents show the going price for 285 hectares of coastal Crown land on Nova Scotia's eastern shore is based on the area being used for conservation and recreational purposes, but not as part of a major proposed golf development.

The province filed its record Oct. 30 in Nova Scotia Supreme Court as part of a judicial review into the government's decision last year to remove Owls Head provincial park from a list of properties awaiting legal protection. The move cleared the way to enter into negotiations with Lighthouse Links, a company that wants to buy the land and merge it with property its principles already own to build as many as three golf courses, residential housing and other developments.

The parcel of rocky, rugged Crown land in Little Harbour is worth $216,000, according to the valuation report commissioned by Lighthouse Links and filed with the court. Although that report was previously made public, the value of the land had been redacted.

Jamie Simpson, the lawyer for the parties suing over the decision to delist the property, noted the value is based on what the report determined to be the "highest and best use" for the land: conservation and recreational purposes.

"This is valued as if it were undevelopable land," he said.

Project's costly challenges

As has been previously reported, the valuation report paints a picture of just how difficult it would be to get the necessary regulatory approvals to develop the land, which is home to a globally rare ecosystem. A presentation to government officials about the proposal, which is also included in the record, illustrates the physical challenges.

The preliminary estimate for the cost of the first golf course is $12.6 million, excluding any infrastructure. The figure is so high, according to the proposal, because it would have to be built on ledge, and sand is not easily available.

"The largest component consists of $5 million for earth moving/ledge removal and covering the area with sand, which must be trucked onto the site," the proposal reads.

It goes on to say a successful real estate development is going to be necessary to help offset the high costs of course construction. Savings could be achieved if a sand plant is built on the site to convert the ledge moved during construction, according to the proposal.

The company says in the proposal that it plans to finance the venture through a combination of private equity and debt, and that they plan to look for other partners and pursue other funding opportunities.

Potential job creation

Simpson said the documents are the clearest indication yet of the environmental damage such a proposal would cause.

Still, despite the ongoing court challenge, there is support for the project. Some people on the province's eastern shore welcome the potential development because of the jobs it could bring to the area. A petition to that effect signed by 758 people in the community was tabled in Province House last spring.

The proposal filed with the court says the project is expected to create 150 to 200 jobs. Although it doesn't detail how that figure was reached, it says some of the jobs would be seasonal and that the tally includes construction and operation of the golf courses and residential housing.

The company signed a letter of offer with the province last December, right around the time CBC News first reported on the proposal. Simpson took issue with that, given the documents filed with the court show discussions about the project dating back to 2016 and a desire to delay public consultation until after the land was delisted. A communications plan for the proposal was signed off on in early 2019, but not put into use prior to CBC's reporting.

Consultation requirements

The letter of offer requirements include a public consultation and communications plan, which must be submitted to and approved by the province. Ultimately, it would be up to cabinet to determine whether to sell the land.

In response to questions on Monday, the company's lawyer said in an email he had no instructions to provide comment. In August, he said his clients were observing the court process and remained interested in pursuing the project. They have intervenor status in the judicial review.

A spokesperson for the Lands and Forestry Department said they have yet to receive the company's communication and consultation plan. The department previously granted the company an extension to complete required survey work on the land due to challenges related to COVID-19.

"With the judicial review underway and the results pending, there has been no movement on the file by the department," Brian Taylor said in an email.

The parties return to court next month.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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