The provincial government is enacting legislation to clarify what can and cannot be done along Nova Scotia’s coastlines.

On March 12, Environment Minister Margaret Miller introduced the new Coastal Protection Act. Because climate change means rising sea levels, flooding and coastal erosion, Miller said the government needs to protect the natural ecosystems that project the coast.

The other major consideration is that any new coastal construction occurs in locations safe from storm surges and sea level rise.

Because Nova Scotia’s coastline differs in every part of the province, John Somers with Nova Scotia Environment, explained the legislation is flexible to local conditions. He said the legislation will effect where people will build in the future to stop the problem from becoming worse.

The department said salt marshes, dunes and other coastal features filter water, shelter birds and sea life, and allow the coast to naturally adapt to the impact of climate change. The Ecology Action Centre said the legislation will protect these coastal ecosystems – and allow them to adapt and be resilient – by preventing “inappropriate coastal development.”

The department said it will continue to work closely with municipalities and others, like First Nations, to develop the regulations that will define how the legislation will work. Somers said the department will work with municipal units through their building permit process to ensure the province isn’t adding more regulatory burdens.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) said the majority of its members border the coastline and are already experiencing the effects of climate change.

Since coastline activity is regulated by all three levels of government under multiple pieces of legislation, the NSFM said it hopes this newest piece will align with, or replace, existing rules and not create additional regulatory or financial burdens. To do this, they encouraged all governments to work together in a “coordinated and collaborative approach.”

Last summer, the former environment minister told The Reporter that the department wanted to hear from Nova Scotians about how the legislation should balance construction – or any other activity that could impact the natural environment – near the coast, with protecting natural ecosystems.

At the time, the province said it wanted to provide legal protection for coasts by defining a “Coastal Protection Zone,” restricting certain activities within that zone and creating provisions for monitoring and compliance.

For example, the province sought to ensure people build cottages or homes in areas that are less susceptible to climate change. According to the department, building too close to the shoreline can damage sensitive coastal areas, put financial investments at risk and threaten public safety.

According to the province, physically altering the shoreline can accelerate coastal erosion. A 1998 report by the Geological Survey of Canada identified that Atlantic Canada is gradually sinking through a natural process called subsidence. And, significant areas of Nova Scotia are prone to high rates of coastal erosion and coastal flooding.

After this consultation period, the province received just over 1,300 responses to an on-line survey. It also held 16 in-person sessions with stakeholder groups and reached out directly to fisheries and agriculture groups, First Nations, and others. A report on the results of the consultation is available at: novascotia.ca/coast.

Somers said they heard from a wide range of perspectives, including those who want the province to continue consulting and maintaining stakeholder relations. He said there were concerns expressed about government dictating what private landowners can and cannot do with their properties, but Somers said the broad consensus was supportive of the measures announced earlier this month.

It seems the majority opinion is that tangible action must be taken immediately to address the threat but with – multiple layers of red tape, redundancies and overlap; some property owners chaffing at government over-reach; and multiple stakeholders to consult – it will be a challenge to get this legislation passed in the near future.

And, environment officials are unable to put even an approximate timeline on passage of the bill, which would indicate the work that remains.

That means immediate action is off the table for the sake of comprehensive legislation that accounts for all perspectives, offers clear guidelines, but most importantly, protects this province from the ravages of climate change.

Although this province has waited for far too long to act and immediate action is needed to address climate change, it will require time and patience to pass legislation that has the best chance of protecting Nova Scotia’s coastlines.