Nova Scotia

Golf course developers eye part of provincial park in Cape Breton for second time

Some residents in Mabou, N.S., are disappointed that developers behind the world-renowned Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links golf courses are trying for a second time to put an 18-hole golf course on part of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park.

West Mabou Beach Committee previously stopped a similar proposal in 2018

West Mabou Beach Provincial Park includes hiking trails, a beach, sand dunes and vulnerable plants and animals. (Communications Nova Scotia)

Some residents in Mabou, N.S., are disappointed that developers behind the world-renowned Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links golf courses are trying for a second time to put an 18-hole golf course on part of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park.

Cabot Cape Breton circulated a proposal on Monday outlining their plans to apply for a Crown land lease with the provincial government.

The owners of the golf courses want to occupy one-third of a 215-hectare park located about 20 kilometres south of the company's existing Cabot Links course. That would require permission from the province's Natural Resources Department.

In 2018, the department found that parts of the park were "a priority ecosystem for conservation" and noted the park was home to endangered and threatened bird species and rare plants.

West Mabou Beach is one of the few publicly accessible beaches in the area. (Communications Nova Scotia)

'It's extremely disappointing'

Nadine Hunt is the chair of the West Mabou Beach Committee, a volunteer group that got provincial park designation for the beach in 2001. 

Four years ago, Hunt fought to bar the developers from moving forward with their plans. She thought this issue was in the past. 

"To try to open up old wounds within the community, it's really unforgivable," she said. "It shouldn't be happening. It should not be happening."

The triangle-shaped park is about 215 hectares and includes a two-kilometre sandy beach along one side, a sand dune system, an estuary and trail networks. It is home to vulnerable species of birds and plants. 

A drawing shows where a proposed golf course could be built on the coast in a provincial park.
Developers circulated this map of the park in their proposal. It outlines where the 18-hole golf course would be placed. (Cabot Cape Breton)

Hunt said the new proposal shows the potential course taking over the most environmentally and ecologically sensitive areas of the park.

"[They're] talking about actually putting a golf course on sand dunes and in salt marsh areas," she said. "This proposal should be nipped in the bud immediately. It makes absolutely no sense."

Five local organizations to get annual funding

Former Nova Scotia premier Rodney MacDonald, who lives in the Mabou area, is a community liaison for Cabot although not a registered lobbyist in the province.

He met with five community organizations on Sunday to discuss the proposal: West Mabou Development Association, Mabou and District Development Association, Mabou Athletic Commission, Strathspey Performing Arts Centre, Mabou Gaelic & Historical Society.

MacDonald says those groups would receive annual funding ranging from $12,500 to $50,000. 

Owners of the Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs golf courses want a new 18-hole golf course built on West Mabou Beach Provincial Park in Mabou, N.S. Pictured is Cabot Cliffs in Inverness, located just north of West Mabou. (The Canadian Press)

"[Cabot] would make an investment of $125,000 a year annually into the community and that would benefit groups, and that would have a positive spinoff directly to the community," MacDonald said. 

He says the discussions were positive. 

"My goal was to make sure that the community has a chance to provide input, to provide feedback, to ask questions and then to get the questions that they want answered, answered," MacDonald said. 

MacDonald says the course would have a minimal footprint, with no accommodations or restaurants. An on-site office or clubhouse is also mentioned in the proposal. 

"The community feels very strong about the beach itself and so it would not encroach upon the access to the beach or interfere with that access," he said.

Fight for public space

Hunt says the committee is prepared to protect the area again. She has already addressed a letter to the premier and the minister of Natural Resources to ask for more protection for provincial parks against developers. 

"There's been several attempts over the years to use that property for commercial purposes and we firmly, firmly believe that that is a public space," she said. "We cannot be going through this scenario every couple of years where somebody comes through with a proposal."

A spokesperson for Cabot Cape Breton sent an emailed statement in response to a request for an interview. The company said it is currently having conversations with Mabou residents to gather feedback on the proposal.

"We know from experience that a new course will create jobs, growth opportunities for local businesses, enhanced infrastructure, and more opportunities for members of the community," it said.

The company says they will take measures to protect natural habitats.

When asked why they are looking to put a golf course in a provincial park area, the company said their goals align with Nova Scotia's provincial park system: "To provide opportunities for outdoor recreational pursuits; to preserve elements of the natural environment; and to provide residents and visitors with opportunities to discover, experience, and enjoy our province's distinctive natural resources."

Process for leasing Crown lands 

At Province House Monday evening, Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton said he learned of the proposal earlier in the day while travelling to Halifax. He said he has the same information that was sent to residents.

"This is the first information that we've received," he said.

"I haven't read the full document yet that was sent out, but I know this has been in the works a number of years ago. It was put to rest back then and I guess we'll have a look at this again if a request does come in."

Rushton said any application to lease Crown lands goes through the same process and the department would weigh factors including what the community wants and the ecological sensitivity of the land in question.

The minister said he would not speculate on why Cabot is offering money to community groups as part of its proposal work.

"That would be their business. What I want to follow is due process if there is an application that comes in," said Rushton. 

Community divided over Cabot golf course proposal

3 months ago
Duration 2:24
Some people in Cape Breton want the golf course while others say it shouldn't be at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. Matthew Moore has the story.