UPDATE: New Freedom of Information Request Reveals Government Process to Facilitate Sale of Owls Head

Public servants have been working with the prospective buyer, Lighthouse Links Development Corporation, to facilitate the sale of Owls Head Park Reserve

Included in the Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) package are the signed Letter of Offer for the sale of Owls Head Park Reserve, a Valuation Report, and emails between members of the government staff and Gilbert’s representatives.

Summary of The Letter of Offer

“A request to purchase approximately 705.2 acres (285.3 hectares) of Crown lands located at, Little Harbour, Halifax County currently identified on Property Online as PIDs 40747578, 40747586, 00489591, 41307992, 41308008. 41308016, 40751273.”

No matter how the Department of Lands & Forestry tries to obfuscate the issue, Owls Head is far more than a set of parcel identification (PID) numbers. It has an environmentally significant coastal ecosystem, a long history of promised protections, and overwhelming public support for those protections to be formalized.

“Project – Means the proposed development of a recreational and residential community, which is expected to include one to three world class golf courses, club house, single family homes, and short term accommodations, enhanced seasonal and recreational activities (including hiking. kayaking, and boating), as more particularly set out in the Updated Draft Proposal dated October 29, 2019. and attached as Schedule “B.” ”

“The Property will be sold for (redacted) per acre, as determined by the report prepared by an Accredited Appraiser Canada Institute (AACI) qualified appraiser, dated August 26, 2019. The final purchase price to be determined when the approved survey plan has been completed.”

“The sale of the property is subject to public engagement being concluded to the satisfaction of the Department.”

It is worth noting that the Letter of Offer, dated December 16, 2019, has no expiry date. One of the nine “Terms and Conditions” is wholly redacted.

The Letter of Offer is found on pages 72-77 of the Freedom of Information Package. You can read the Letter of Offer right here by using the page up and down arrows.

2020-00417-DLF_PublicPackage-Letter-of-Offer-1

Summary of The Valuation Report

The Valuation Report that assessed the market value of the public lands at Owls Head can be found on pages 11-50 of the PDF. The valuation report was commissioned directly by Lighthouse Links Development Company.

On pages 29 and 30 of the PDF, the valuation report states that the majority of the Owls Head property is zoned as RPK (Regional Park) Zone. Subsequently, it would require “highly unlikely” amendments in municipal policy to allow for other uses.

The valuation report by Turner Drake and Partners Ltd. concludes that “the Highest and Best Use of the Subject Property is for recreational or conservation purposes.

You can read a more detailed post on the valuation report, here.

Summary of The Emails

The FOIPOP contains numerous emails that show public servants in the Nova Scotia government facilitating the sale of Owls Head Provincial Park Reserve to an American billionaire.

These government officials were coordinating with the prospective buyer on the property valuation, letter of offer, and federal land parcel. This was done without informing the public that Owls Head had been removed from Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan specifically for Gilbert’s proposed golf development.

Coodinating-Emails

Consultation with the Mi’kmaq

Of particular concern in the emails are the requests that the Nova Scotia government “hold off on the First Nations consultation until there is a signed agreement.” On behalf of his client, Mr. Gilbert, attorney Sean Glover asked, “Can you confirm this can be managed?”

Mikmaq-Consultation-Process

Thankfully, Cynthia (Cindy) Steele, Manager of Acquisitions and Disposals for the Department of Lands and Forestry, did draw the line at violating the 2010 Terms of Reference for a Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Consultation Process. Nevertheless, it is clear that the prospective buyer pushing for the consultation to be withheld until after “there is a signed agreement” demonstrates a lack of respect for the engagement process.

The Federal Land Parcel

On December 30, 2019, Leslie Hickman informed Michel Samson (the lobbyist for Lighthouse Links) that Public Services Procurement Canada, a federal government agency, had rescinded their offer to sell the federal land at Owls Head for inclusion in Gilbert’s golf development. This occurred after Michael Gorman’s initial article brought the story to light on December 18, 2019.

Navigate the emails about the federal land parcel by using the toolbar.

Federal-Land-Parcel-1

The Reported “Pause” of the Owls Head Sale

“(Redacted) just called to say he was notified by the lawyer of the company looking to purchase owls head that they are putting it on pause. Was wondering whether the dept has been notified. I will let him know we have not.”

The email above was sent on December 30, 2019. At this point, there was already rapidly growing public opposition. It’s worth noting that the so-called “pause” of the sale was announced on February 19, the night before the Save Owls Head Rally on February 20, 2020.

When asked by CBC if the “department received any clarity yet from the Gilberts’ lawyer about whether they’re pulling out of the letter of offer,” Leslie Hickman replied:

“Correct still no response to our lawyer’s emails sent to them after the CBC article saying they were putting it on “pause.”

Emails-about-the-Pause-and-the-CBC

Other members of the department also said that they had not been notified. This suggests that the Gilberts’ lawyer went straight to the media to announce the “pause,” without taking any action with the Department of Lands and Forestry.

Since the Letter of Offer does not expire and the Gilberts have evidently not taken any legal action, the Letter of Offer is still valid.

“Who’s Who” of the Emails

When reading through the emails, we thought it would be helpful to have a list of the key government officials and representatives of Lighthouse Links.

Leslie Hickman
Executive Director
Land Services Branch
Department of Lands and Forestry

Joanne Bolger
Executive Secretary to Deputy Minister Julie Towers
Department of Lands and Forestry

Julie Towers
Deputy Minister
Nova Scotia Lands & Forestry

Cynthia (Cindy) Steele
Manager of Acquisitions and Disposals
Land Services Branch
Department of Lands and Forestry

Lisa Jarrett
Media Contact
Department of Lands and Forestry

Sean Rooney
Nova Scotia Department of Justice
Legal Services

Hon. Michel Samson
Counsel at Cox & Palmer
Lobbyist for Lighthouse Links Development Co.
Former Member of the Nova Scotia Legislature

Sean Glover
Partner and Lawyer at Cox & Palmer
Attorney for Lighthouse Links Development Co.

Sources:

Download the full FOIPOP package here:

http://saveowlshead.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020-00417-DLF_PublicPackage.pdf

The Government website for this FOIPOP here: https://informationaccess.novascotia.ca/node/5465

The Municipal Zoning Laws are available here:
https://www.halifax.ca/sites/default/files/documents/about-the-city/regional-community-planning/EasternShoreWest_LUB_Eff_Feb%2025%202017.pdf

The Municipal Zoning Map for Eastern Shore West is available here:
http://saveowlshead.org/easternshorewest_lub_scheduleazoning18october2014-3/

https://coxandpalmerlaw.com/people/the-honourable-michel-p-samson-ba-llb-ecns/

https://novascotia.ca/natr/thedepartment/landservices.asp

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