Nova Scotia

Former provincial biologist seeks judicial review of Owls Head decision

Papers were filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last week seeking a judicial review of the provincial government's decision to remove Owls Head provincial park from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan so the land can be considered for sale to developers.

Bob Bancroft and Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association filed papers last week

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)

The fight over a section of Nova Scotia Crown land once slated for protection but now being considered for sale to developers is spilling into court.

Papers were filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court last week seeking a judicial review of the provincial government's decision to remove Owls Head provincial park in Little Harbour from the Parks and Protected Areas Plan.

The 285 hectares of coastal Crown land on the province's Eastern Shore was one of about 100 properties still awaiting legal protection.

Last March, the government agreed to delist the property so it could enter into negotiations to sell the land to a developer who wants to build golf courses. The decision wasn't made public until December when CBC reported on the deal. Even after that, Owls Head remained on the protected areas website for about a month.

The papers, filed in court on behalf of Bob Bancroft, a former biologist for the province, and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, ask that the six-month time limit to file notice for a judicial review be extended because the delisting was never publicly announced and didn't become known until December.

"From a basic sense of fairness, there ought to be some level of public discussion, some level of public notice and an opportunity to comment on a change to that list," said Jamie Simpson, the Halifax-based lawyer representing the applicants.

'High conservation value'

The court documents argue an extension to the time limit is necessary to maintain public fairness.

"Preventing a judicial review to be heard on the merits in a situation such as this would encourage administrative decision makers to make decisions in secret in order to insulate them from judicial review."

The province's decision has sparked strong public criticism, an extensive letter-writing campaign to the premier and calls to protect the land. The federal government recently announced it was no longer considering a request from the province to sell a piece of surplus federal Crown land in the same area, which ultimately could have been merged for the golf course proposal.

Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin, who is named in the action, has said the letter of offer between the province and Lighthouse Links Development Company includes a requirement for a public engagement plan, which would be reviewed by the government before a sale is finalized. Bancroft argues that consultation should have happened before Owls Head was ever removed from the plan.

Owls Head is home to several endangered species and includes a globally-rare ecosystem. Conservationists have noted very little of the province's coastline remains in public hands and that development at Owls Head would destroy the area's ecosystem.

"Obviously there's something of high conservation value here that would be a shame to lose from the provincial parks network," said Simpson.

In the court documents, Bancroft asks for an interlocutory injunction to prevent the sale of the land pending the outcome of the matter, which is scheduled to be heard March 24.

A spokesperson for the province, citing the pending court case, declined comment.

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