Joan Baxter
The Halifax Examiner
May 20, 2021

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In 2008, Atlantic Gold was given provincial approval for the gigantic Touquoy open pit gold mine with the condition that within 4 years the company buy and give the province nearby land for conservation purposes. 13 years later, that condition is still unmet, and the province is making no real effort to enforce it.

The irony of it all

Jamie Simpson says there is certainly irony in this plan — be it as yet unfulfilled — for Atlantic Gold to procure conservation lands, given what the province has not done to protect Owls Head Park, a “globally rare” ecosystem on the Atlantic Coast about 30 kilometres southeast of Atlantic Gold’s open pit gold mine at Moose River.

Simpson is legal counsel for the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association and Nova Scotian wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft, who have applied for a judicial review “of the Minister of Lands and Forestry’s decisions to de-list Owls Head Provincial Park from the Our Parks and Protected Areas Plan and to enter into an agreement to sell the land to a private company, Lighthouse Links, for development into a golf resort.”

In December 2019, CBC reporter Michael Gorman broke the news to Nova Scotians that unbeknownst to them, the provincial government had secretly de-listed Owls Head as provincial land slated for official protection. Gorman reported that then-Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin said the government was comfortable removing the designation because Owls Head isn’t a priority for legal protection.

Instead, the government was offering Owls Head to Beck Gilbert, a wealthy (or as Tim Bousquet put it) a “filthy rich” American, for his Lighthouse Links proposal that would be “comparable to Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs” in Cape Breton, and involve the construction of golf courses and “a destination residential or resort community.”

The December 16, 2019 letter of offer signed by Rankin, states that the 705.2 acres (285.3 hectares) of previously protected Crown land at Owls Head would be sold to Lighthouse Links Development for just $306 an acre, a mere $215,791 for a property with nearly eight kilometres of shoreline.

Citizens have mobilized to try to pressure Rankin, now Nova Scotia premier, to reverse the decision he made when he was Lands and Forestry minister, joining a “Save Owls Head Provincial Park” Facebook page by the thousands, developing a webpage full of resources, demonstrating in Halifax, and circulating a petition.

The matter is also still in court. As Jennifer Henderson reported for the Examiner, on April 1, 2021, Supreme Court Justice Christa Brothers reserved her decision on the judicial review, and Premier Rankin is showing no signs of reversing the decision to de-list Owls Head, which has been found by scientists to be “ecologically important habitat” and thus high-conservation-value land.

Namely, the kind of land that Atlantic Gold is supposed to be acquiring for conservation in the same part of the province.

Says Simpson, “It’s interesting that on one hand the province would require the protection of this 265 hectares from Atlantic Gold. But at the same time, they would quite easily just give away a similar amount of land to an industrial developer.”

Simpson pauses, then adds, “Just, wow.”

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