Councillors supportive of protecting park

Laurie Cranton (bottom left), Nadine Hunt (centre) and a full gallery at Inverness Municipal Council mulled over the need to protect the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park.

PORT HOOD: The gallery was full. The gallery was so full that extra chairs had to be brought in. And, even then, a line of spectators remained stationed at the council chamber’s door.

That was the scene at Inverness Council’s last regular meeting.

The attendees were in support of Nadine Hunt, a member of the West Mabou Beach Committee. Hunt was presenting to council as pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a local developer laying claim to land at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park. To be specific, rumours are circulating that Cabot Golf is looking at developing a third golf destination in the area.

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“This is not just a provincial park,” Hunt said. “It’s a natural environment provincial park which, by definition, has outstanding conservation values while providing opportunities for recreation that don’t interfere with those values.

“When this park was designated in 2001, the boundaries were defined in order to protect all these values. It is indeed only as healthy as the sum of its parts. It needs to be protected.

“What’s the point of being called Canada’s ocean playground if you can’t get to the playground?”

Hunt offered a comprehensive overview of what can be found at West Mabou Beach. The park is home to one species of bird that’s critically imperiled, two other species that are vulnerable to extinction, one species of plant that’s imperiled, and two other species that are vulnerable to extinction. She also referenced the eco-tourism benefits of having the park in operation.

“Development has its place, but not inside the boundaries of this park,” she said.

All council members offered a response to Hunt and, generally speaking, members seemed to lean toward protecting the provincial park status. One of the other themes that reoccurred in the councillors’ remarks was that, so far, no one knows for sure what plans – if any – Cabot Golf has for the area.

Two of the most vocal advocates of supporting the park status were councillors John Dowling and John MacLennan. Both said they were “100 per cent” in support of keeping developers out of the park.

“There is no other place in Nova Scotia that would allow any parks to be sold, auctioned off, or be given away – either a piece of it or in total,” Dowling said. “There should be no reason why the county should be different. Inverness County is open for business but not in our parks.

“This shouldn’t even be up for discussion. We shouldn’t even possibly think about giving away a piece of our heritage.”

MacLennan was equally direct.

“If this land is protected, it’s protected,” he said. “We never got a statement from anyone [about development plans], but what I’m looking at is that the land is protected and that’s all there is to it.”

Councillors Laurie Cranton and Jim Mustard kept their comments minimal, but both said they support the park’s protection.

The remaining council members, Deputy Warden Alfred Poirier and Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie, stopped short of confirming they were in support of Hunt’s request. However, both seemed to be sympathetic to the overall points she made.

“I did business all my life, and I want to grow the county, but I still respect the tourist attractions we have besides golf,” Poirier said, suggesting he’d like to get more information from the developer directly. “To lose your beaches and dunes, what’s going to be left for our kids and grandkids later on?”

MacQuarrie said that, right now, rumours are far more numerous than facts. She’s holding out hope, she said, that a win-win situation could happen.

“At this point, I would like to have an ear open to what everybody has to say,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is talking about taking the park away.”

It should be noted that West Mabou Beach is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources and, therefore, the final decision regarding the park would not be Inverness Council’s call.