Former land planner says province's golf proposal a 'betrayal'
Nova Scotia favours golf resort proposal to protecting Owls Head provincial park
A former provincial park planner for the Nova Scotia government says a proposal that would see coastal Crown land sold for a potential golf resort is a "betrayal of the public trust" and should be stopped.
Last March, without public notice, the province removed the pending protection designation from Owls Head provincial park.
The change allows the government to enter into negotiations to sell the 285 hectares of park reserve in Little Harbour on the Eastern Shore to a company that wants to build as many as three golf courses in the area.
"I felt that there was basically an ironclad commitment in place for that property to remain protected and designated, so I was just shocked that it was happening," said Chris Trider, who spent 21 years working for the former Natural Resources Department, now known as Lands and Forestry.
"They should just cease and desist and apologize for this betrayal of the public trust and put the designation back in place."
During his time with government, Trider's responsibilities included planning for provincial parks for eastern Nova Scotia, working on the protected beaches program and helping with reviews of the Provincial Parks Act and Beaches Act.
He was also involved in the assessment of coastal properties for acquisition by the province.
"I know how hard they are to find, I know how hard they are to come by. I know how important these properties are for the long-term public good," said Trider.
By the province's own assessment, Owls Head includes several endangered species, such as piping plovers and an ecosystem that's considered globally rare.
Despite this, Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has said the government decided the land's biodiversity value isn't as high as other areas slated for legal protection.
Rankin said the decision to pursue the proposal from Lighthouse Links Development Company was a combination of weighing the value of protection against potential economic development for a rural community.
"I see it as an opportunity for eco-tourism," he said in a recent interview. "I see golf courses co-existing with opportunities for protecting the environment."
'It just shouldn't happen this way'
Trider said there are alternative ways to deal with the land, such as leasing some of it, that would allow the government to retain ownership and protect public interests. Such a move wouldn't involve steps to remove the ecological value of the area, he said.
"The notion that [the government] has to remove it from designation, take away the protected layer and then appraise it and sell it, it just doesn't pass the smell test," he said.
Trider takes particular umbrage with the way the process has played out — entirely behind closed doors until CBC News learned of the matter through several freedom of information requests.
"There were extensive public consultations leading up to the designation of this property, to the protection of this property. Nova Scotians have very little public access to the coast, so it's an important property," said Trider.
"It just shouldn't happen this way. The public should be aware of what's happening, the process should be transparent and there should be a public interest — a strong public interest — before any decision like this is taken."