The Rick Howe Show
April 27, 2020
“This proposal, this development of 3 golf courses (and luxury accommodations and what have you) could be easily accommodated in other private lands, other locations along the Eastern Shore. They don’t need to go in and destroy a beautiful, natural environment park to do this.”
Former DNR park planner, Christopher Trider, joins host Todd Veinotte to offer perspective on Owls Head Provincial Park.
Todd Veinotte: I came across an interesting story on the SaltWire website and the headline is “Owl’s Head Development, An Economic Driver or Ecological Disaster?” It’s an interesting read indeed, and it does cover both sides of the story. Chris Trider, who is quoted in the story, is a member of the Facebook group, Save Owls Head. He’s also worked for the province in the Natural Resources Department for 21 years and joins me to talk about all of this. Chris, thanks for talking with me today. I appreciate your time.
Chris Trider: Appreciate the call, Todd. Thank you.
Todd Veinotte: So, what do you think of the story? Did you feel it was balanced, did you feel you were fairly represented?
Chris Trider: I thought Francis Campbell treated me very fairly in that story. I accept the fact there’s going to be two sides to a story. But, we’ve been misrepresented, I believe, as opposing economic development and that’s just not true. We just believe this proposal, this development of three golf courses and luxury accommodations and what have you, easily could be accommodated at other private lands or other locations along the Eastern Shore. They don’t have to go in and destroy a beautiful natural environment park to do this.
So, it’s kind of a tactic to divide the community along these lines. Anyway, it was interesting to see the compare and contrast, you know. I was involved historically with the golf course situation in and around West Mabou and Inverness. And so, I have some history on that side, too. In my opinion, the comparison is bizarre and unfair, because the golf course developments in Inverness were done on an abandoned mine property. And so, it was actually an improvement. The Cabot Links group wasn’t proposing to destroy a valuable park and unique and interesting ecosystem.
And actually, when they did propose that – it was for West Mabou Beach Provincial Park – they were shut down.
It’s been a tactic since day one. You know, the local MLA, Kevin Murphy, has raised it on a number of occasions. And I think it’s quite unfair, really, because it’s people who are trying to protect the 12% or 13% – whatever number you favour – of lands that are set aside for future generations for valid reasons. So yeah, I thought the article was balanced.
I had some problems with the proponent using the expression, “world-class.” What exactly is world class? You know, if you look at Owls Head as a unique property that contains a globally rare plant community and other ecosystems, isn’t that world-class? I mean, isn’t its role as part of the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System as a Natural Environment Park (1975), connected to the Eastern Shore Islands and 100 Wild Islands project in the interior wilderness areas, isn’t that world class? I guarantee you it’s world class.
Todd Veinotte: You’re referring to Kim Whytock, an avid golfer? Is that who you’re referring to?
Chris Trider: Yeah, yeah. I guess, what golfer wouldn’t like a golf course built next door to them, you know?
Todd Veinotte: Yeah, I kind of dismissed that part of the story. I mean, obviously, you get a golfer going rah, rah, rah, let’s make this happen. I don’t put a lot of credence into that.
However, later in the story, Tanya Tibbo, who we’re going to reach out to, Director of Finance for the Municipality of Inverness County, as you already alluded to, says the Cabot properties are assessed at more than $17 million and generate $320,000 in tax revenue for the municipality. And the story goes on to say, property tax collected accounts for about 85% of the municipality’s revenue, and Cabot contributes 11.8% of the total commercial tax revenue gathered. And so those are real meat on the bone numbers. What can you tell us? What’s the surrounding community, for those who don’t know, in the Eastern Shore that we’re talking about with Owls Head? Is there a surrounding community that’s begging for this to happen? Can you set the landscape there, if you will?
Chris Trider: I’m not going to pretend to be a spokesperson for the communities on the Eastern Shore. That’s a dangerous game to play at times, I would say. But certainly, you’ve got to look at the impact of the Cabot Links development in Inverness, of course, it’s huge, compared to the impact of any similar development on HRM with its tax base and the amount of development that’s underway. So, it’s a little unfair to sort of, get those numbers and then try to apply them on the Eastern Shore and HRM, because you’ve got a completely different situation there.
So, once again, I come back to my original comment: we don’t oppose investors and entrepreneurs going ahead with a major destination golf resort on the Eastern Shore. Just, you know, buy the private land at fair market value and do your development and planning process and go through the steps, you’re going to have a lot less environmental impact, you’re going to have a lot lower costs, it’s going to be a better deal for your investors. And as you say, the municipality would get its tax base and development and all the rest of it.
But again, these comparisons are kind of unfair because you’re not comparing apples to apples, right? It’s a different situation. So, the communities of the Eastern Shore were incensed back in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Ship Harbor National Park proposal. They fought it tooth and nail. Maybe you remember this, maybe you don’t. But out of that whole fight and argument/debate, came the Eastern Shore Seaside Park System. And these were the components that were agreed upon, in all the communities of the Eastern Shore. And government committed to it and they went ahead and developed several of the pieces of that park system. Clam Harbour Beach, Taylor Head were both developed, implemented, so to speak.
But the Natural Environment Park at Owls Head wasn’t developed at that point. And I believe the next priority would have been the destination Keji-style campground that was proposed for Lake Charlotte. So, you have to, again, remember the importance and significance of Owls Head in that park. And, again, I’m coming back to the idea of what did the communities want? That was a hard-fought community battle down there, probably the hardest that had ever occurred in Nova Scotia at that point, and the outcome was Owls Head was a Natural Environment Park in that plan since 1975.
Just because bureaucracy didn’t get around to completing its formal designation, similar to the way they’ve done with 200 other parks and wilderness areas and nature reserves [awaiting designation], doesn’t make it any less of an important site and property to the public interest. And I mean all Nova Scotia. This is not a local issue; this is an issue for all Nova Scotia.
Todd Veinotte: Chris, if there are other parcels of land, which would be of equal value or would be as coveted to build a golf course – and obviously you can’t speak for these developers, but you can speculate, I guess – why haven’t they given up and gone and bought something else?
Chris Trider: Well, you could speculate that the fact that they’ve been offered close to 700 acres with five miles of shoreline for (I think it’s) $250,000 – that may have played a role in their thinking. I’m not sure about that. But I don’t think with fair market value these days that you’d find much in the way of private land with five miles of shore frontage for that price. So that may have played a role in their thinking. I don’t like to speculate on these sorts of things.
Behind the scenes here, in my opinion, there’s a large group who do these types of developments, who want to do a development there. They don’t want to do it in other areas, they’ve sort of zeroed in on this now, and now they’re manipulating and moving the pieces, you know, the politicians, dividing the community on the economic and environment lines. And I think, tactically, they’ve done this in many parts of the world.
So, I find it all very third world for us to be in this position, to be where we have to sacrifice a beautiful and unique, natural area that we’ve protected for 45 years and represents 10,000 years of evolution in the plant communities and the ecosystems that are there at the altar of these guys and their golf development. I’m sorry, I struggle with accepting that.
Todd Veinotte: Yeah, some people have disconnected to the developer and their profiting and their motivations, back to “look at Inverness, and look at Cabot” and (as I already mentioned) some of these numbers. So they don’t look at it as though these Americans are profiting, this rich couple, as much as jobs, etc. What do you say to that?
Chris Trider: Well, again, we don’t oppose the development, just do it somewhere where it makes sense.
Todd Veinotte: It’s not going to happen, though, Chris, if it happens somewhere else. Because obviously, they’re not doing it anywhere else; this is clearly where they want to do this.
Chris Trider: I would ask the question, then, why is that? Why wouldn’t it happen? Why does it have to be Owls Head? What’s the particular driver here for these guys that they feel they need to have the park property in question here?
Golf courses can be designed and built in a lot of different terrain and habitats. What’s the one of the Masters? Augusta National? Where’s that? You know, you can build beautiful golf courses, anywhere. In fact, there would be much better locations in that region that actually have soil you can work with; you could mitigate some of the impacts of nitrates and pesticides and what have you.
Owls Head has none of that. It doesn’t have soil. Really, what their proposal will do is obliterate that area and transform it into their vision of recreational golf. So, again, find another place. Then you can have your jobs and your development and you can do your proposal more effectively for the investors, for the environment, and for the public of this province.
Todd Veinotte: Chris, just quickly, what do we know about the timeline here? This seems to be this open-ended kind of story that there’s no end in sight to it. But what have we been told about whatever decision needs to be made? Or whoever gets the green light? What do we know?
Chris Trider: Well, Eastern Shore Forest Watch [Association] and Bob Bancroft presented to the court and the Justice reserved her decision. So how long she takes to make that decision is sort of what’s going to determine the timeline and what that decision is. And if the judge decides in favour of the public interest, then Premier Rankin and his cohorts will be faced with the decision of will they reverse the process. And where they go from there is going to be in their hands. I don’t want to speculate, but I mean, Premier Rankin has said he’d do it all again. So doing it all again, at that point, if we win the court decision, will mean possibly legitimate public consultation on this whole matter. And if that’s the case, then we will be in some kind of a defined public consultation process. You know, the fear is, on our side, if we lose this decision, that they will just fast track. They’ll do some kind of pseudo-developer-driven public consultation, stack meetings, and just rush it through so they can get the machinery down there and start tearing the place apart.
Todd Veinotte: Chris, I appreciate your time. It’s a good chat. Thank you so much and we’ll follow up.
Chris Trider: Thanks for calling and really appreciate your interest in this issue.
Todd Veinotte: That’s Chris Trider; he’s head of the Facebook group, Save Owls Head. And again, he has worked for the province of Nova Scotia in the Natural Resources Department for a couple of decades… Something that perhaps you want to weigh in on when we open the phone lines between 11 and 12.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Christopher Trider appears on his first podcast: The Todd Veinotte Show
Who Gives a Hoot? Video by Jerry Lockett
Owls Head Development – An Economic Driver or Ecological Disaster