Dalhousie marine biologist calls sensitive eel grass at Owls Head ‘treasure’

Kristina Boerder says development would likely cause negative consequences on surrounding aquatic vegetation and marine life

Kristina Boerder completed work in the area last summer and says the rare eel grass beds at Owls Head are more effective at trapping carbon than forests on land. She says about one acre of eel grass can store about 330 kilograms of carbon per year. 

“This is about as much as a car travelling from Halifax to Vancouver would emit in carbon,” she says. “The function of eel grass beds trapping carbon is incredibly important if we talk about climate change and a warming planet.”

She says it also benefits humans and the environment by protecting the coast from erosion and improving water quality.

“It’s one of the most productive ecosystems in the world,” she says. “A square metre produces about 10 litres of oxygen per day, and really benefits everybody.”

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JIM VIBERT: Without answers, Rankin’s credibility suffers

Naturalist Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch were in court last week making the case that the secret removal of Owls Head from the list denied the public an opportunity to be heard. There was broad public consultation to develop the list.

… Rankin’s defence of the behind-closed-doors machinations was vague and vapid. He talked about listening to Nova Scotians and following the right process.

Yet, all available evidence suggests Rankin and the government listened only to the golf course proponents and their well-connected Liberal lobbyists. As for the process, it was hidden from Nova Scotians, who just happen to own the land.

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RICHARD BELL: Owls Head Goes to Court

The Executive Summary states, “With these changes, the new parks and protected areas system will include: 205 provincial parks.” And “Appendix A: Lands” presented “a complete list of new protected areas, as well as provincial park properties.” The list included 782 properties, listed alphabetically. In position 694, the document lists “Owls Head Provincial Park” as an “existing” park.

What the public was not aware of  was that the province had never gone through the formal process of designating Owls Head Provincial Park as a “park.” And in fact, more than 100 of the other properties in the Plan were in the same undesignated category.

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MICHAEL GORMAN: Judge reserves decision in Owls Head matter

Michael Gorman
CBC News
April 1, 2021

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Owls Head might never have been a provincial park, but the fact so many Nova Scotians believed it was — and, indeed, even government officials — should have made public consultation a requirement before the province considered selling it, Nova Scotia Supreme Court heard Thursday.

… “The heart of this issue is really the secret removal of a park’s [pending] protected status,” Simpson told the court.

He provided a variety of examples that showed members of the public and provincial government officials believed for decades that Owls Head was a provincial park. Only recently was it learned the land did not carry that designation.

As such, Simpson argued the public was owed a duty of fairness and the chance to comment before members of the treasury and policy board made the decision to delist the property and potentially sell the Crown land at the recommendation of Iain Rankin, who was lands and forestry minister at the time.

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Environmentalists and locals rally at Law Courts to defend pristine Owls Head from turning into golf courses and resort

Robert Devet
The Nova Scotia Advocate
April 1, 2021

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Well over 100 people gathered at the Halifax Law Courts on Lower Water Street this morning to send the message that Nova Scotians don’t like secretive deals turning a biologically rare coastal site into golf courses and resorts for rich people.

The rally occurred at the Law Courts to support biologist Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, who before Justice Christa Brothers of the Supreme Court argued that the province should have consulted the public before de-listing Owls Head. 

… “The government has a choice. They can either do this the easy way or they can do this the hard way,” said Tynette Deveaux of the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. 

“We’re going to succeed regardless. You all know we’re also fighting for the future of the planet. We can’t lose and we won’t lose because we’ll stand together and we’ll figure this out. The golf course will never be built because if we don’t win in the courts, folks are going to sit on the roads to block those trucks from trying to create a golf course,” she said.

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FRANCIS CAMPBELL: Owls Head fate debated in court, premier defends decision, rally calls to stop the sale

Francis Campbell
The Chronicle Herald
April 1, 2021

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Inside the courthouse, lawyer Jamie Simpson challenged Iain Rankin’s March 2019 decision, as then minister of lands and forestry, to remove 285 hectares of Crown property at Owls Head from the protected areas plan and to enter into sale negotiations that would support a golf course development instead.

“The minister had a process in place that led to the parks and protected areas plan,” said Simpson, representing the judicial review applicants, Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association.

“The decision to remove Owls Head from the plan, absent any notice or consultation with the public, was a marked departure from this established practice,” Simpson said. 

Simpson said it seems the minister and the treasury and policy board was bound to a single outcome, “that is to remove the park from the parks and protected areas plan so that the minister could negotiate a sale to a private interest.”

Simpson argued that Rankin and the Lands and Forestry Department never assessed the property for its economic and ecological value, but instead entered into a discussion to sell the four pieces of property in question for a proposed $216,000, a price based on the land being undevelopable.

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