Nova Scotia

Public will be consulted before any development at Owls Head: minister

Although a proposed golf course development on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore has some residents angry that it could come at the expense of public park reserve, the environment minister says it’s far from a done deal.

Lighthouse Links Development Co. wants to build 3 courses in the Little Harbour area

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)

Although a proposed golf course development on Nova Scotia's Eastern Shore has some residents angry that it could come at the expense of public park reserve, the environment minister says it's far from a done deal.

Last year the government quietly removed Owls Head provincial park in Little Harbour from the province's pending protected status list. The move was made so negotiations could begin with Lighthouse Links Development Co., which hopes to acquire the 285 hectares of coastal headland, add it to land it already owns, and build up to three golf courses.

Members of the public have decried the fact the move happened with no notice or public consultation and have called on the government to reverse the decision. Government staff's own assessment of the land notes the area is home to several endangered species as well as a globally rare ecosystem

But in an interview Thursday, Environment Minister Gordon Wilson said that even if the land is sold, no development would proceed before first going through the environmental assessment process, which includes opportunities for public comment.

"We always have the legislation in front of us to protect any piece of property down the road from significant environmental damage," said Wilson, who was not minister at the time the decision to de-list Owls Head was made.

"Any development that goes on any piece of property and touches on any kind of environmental sensitivities … there is a process that we have and it is within our regulatory world that we, I think, do a very good job ensuring that our environment and our significant areas are protected."

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson says no development can happen without an environmental assessment process, which includes public feedback. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

The Ecology Action Centre issued a news release Thursday saying there is "a strong scientific and social case" for granting Owls Head, which is not actually a provincial park, legal protected status. The group noted that just five per cent of the province's coast is protected and public.

"The chance to preserve nature and public access on the coast is an exceptional opportunity and should not be foregone in favour of private development that could be done elsewhere," reads the release.

But Wilson said his responsibility, and that of his predecessors, is finding the balance between the need to protect land while addressing economic challenges, something that applies regardless of the land in question.

In the case of Owls Head, Wilson said it was simply not part of the government's plans for reaching the goal of protecting 13 per cent of all the land in Nova Scotia. Although he couldn't say if the government would reach that target this year, Wilson did say he hopes it will happen before the end of the government's mandate.

On Friday, Wilson is expected to announce legal protection for 10 previously-identified properties.