Nova Scotia minister unaware of pause on controversial sale of coastal land

By Canadian Press

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s minister of lands and forests says he has not yet been informed of any change in an American couple’s plans to acquire a section of rugged Crown-owned land along the province’s Eastern Shore.

Iain Rankin said Thursday he intends to reach out to U.S.-based developers Beckwith and Kitty Gilbert, who have proposed to build as many as three golf courses in the area known as Owls Head.

“We haven’t heard anything official from the Gilberts,” Rankin told reporters. “We’ll reach out to them to see if they want that (offer) terminated or if they are looking for something else.”

The Gilberts say in a statement released to CBC through their lawyer that they have decided to “explore multiple options” for existing properties they own near Little Harbour, N.S.

Rankin said the statement, which he learned of through the media report, is in keeping with what he knows about the developers’ intent.

“They want public support, they care about the general environment of the area … and they want to give back to the community. It’s consistent with that.”

The possible sale has been controversial because Owls Head was quietly removed from a government list of land awaiting legal protection.

The 285-hectare area includes coastal barrens and wetlands. Groups such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society say the Owls Head coastal headlands contain rare coastal ecosystems and a habitat for species at risk such as the piping plover.

A group of about 80 protesters appeared outside the provincial legislature Thursday to call on the government to reverse its decision to delist the area.

Protest organizer Chris Trider, who’s part of a Facebook group dedicated to saving Owls Head that has over 2,600 members, said he believes the developer hasn’t abandoned any plans for the area. 

“It’s a tactic, the night before our rally, to come out with some kind of ambiguous statement with the guy acting like he already owns the (Owls Head) property,” said Trider.

He said the government must put the land back on the designated list and take steps to protect it.

But Rankin said the government isn’t reconsidering its position and pointed out the government’s letter of offer requires the developer to have a public engagement plan.

“I think the public engagement will reveal how much support there is, especially in the local community,” he said.

Legislature Speaker Kevin Murphy, who represents a riding in the area, said he’s also not aware of the developers withdrawing their plan.

Murphy said he believes the development proposal would be “a good fit” and said he’s been a little surprised by the backlash it’s created.

“The local residents are very supportive of trying to do something there to turn their community around  … and they’d like to see something happen,” he said.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press Feb 20. 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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