Councillor, community look for better access to Silver Sands Beach
Park owned by municipality but only accessible via public easement over private property
The councillor for Dartmouth South-Eastern Passage supports a move to buy land for better access to Silver Sands Beach in Cow Bay, N.S.
On Thursday, Becky Kent and the Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council backed a staff report recommending the purchase, sending the issue to regional council for consideration.
"I believe strongly that this is in the best interest of the public," said Kent. "We absolutely don't want to lose access to that beach area."
Silver Sands Beach Park is owned by the municipality, but is only accessible via a public easement over private property. That public easement was granted when those property owners sold the beach and parking lot to the municipality in 2003.
Ocean waves have shifted and eroded the beach over the years, pinching the easement where it reaches the beach.
The staff report says a former "industrial excavation operation that resulted in extensive removal of sand and rock over several decades" is likely the cause of shoreline erosion, while the beach itself has "retracted inward."
"Erosion in the course of time has changed the dynamic of that easement," Kent said.
"It's leading to a small, tiny little piece … maybe a three-foot-square piece of property, and then it leads to private property. And that's just not a situation where the municipality wants to be in."
Mirrors community concerns
Tracey Falconer said Silver Sands Beach has held a unique place in her heart since she was a child.
"I grew up on this beach," said Falconer, who had wedding pictures taken there.
She said she's noticed the same erosion problem as Kent.
"With the beach moving inward, the easement no longer touches the beach, or there's only about three to six feet that the easement touches the beach," she said.
Falconer says armour stone walls protecting the shoreline along the easement are also making it harder to move up and down the eastern end of the beach at high tide.
"Community members still want to access this beach, you know, with family members and dogs," she said. "And so there's quite a few community members that still walk from Osborne Head … and this is making it very difficult."
Falconer sees issues of beach access playing out everywhere.
"I see what's going on across Nova Scotia, and how access ways are being taken away from Nova Scotians. We're becoming landlocked," she said.
Location still in question
A Halifax staff report says accessing the beach directly from the city-owned parking lot is not feasible due to "a steep elevation change to the shore."
Kent said the steep drop makes building stairs or a boardwalk impossible.
"It's just a very tricky and dangerous terrain, that is not in my opinion and staff's opinion a safe and best option," she said.
She said she hopes regional council will support the purchase, which municipal staff say could be funded by Halifax's parkland reserve.
The search and real estate deal would be done in secret, according to municipal rules.
Falconer hopes officials take into account the tidal surges that overwhelm the beach and flood the pond behind it several times a year.
"The planners will have to make sure that they're truly understanding where the access is going to be," she said.
Future of the easement uncertain
Kent said it's too early to discuss the future of the eroding easement that forms the current path to the beach.
The report from municipal staff says "the current location is not likely viable for the long term."
Falconer said it would be hard to say goodbye to the traditional path to the beach.
"The community wants this easement," she said. "When you've had something for so long, you know, this was a perfect access point from the beach."
The landowners whose backyard is divided by the easement route were happy to discuss the matter informally, but declined to comment to CBC News.
Falconer says access issues need to be addressed with provincial and federal laws that anticipate shoreline changes and increased privatization.
"The ocean resonates with most of us," she said. "It runs through our blood.
"All of us growing up have been probably to a beach or a lake in Nova Scotia. That's what it's about. We're losing that access."