New coastal protection legislation introduced

    HALIFAX: The province is moving forward with coastal protection legislation.

    On March 12, Environment Minister Margaret Miller introduced a new Coastal Protection Act that will ensure clear province-wide rules for what can and cannot be done on Nova Scotia’s vulnerable coastlines.

    “Climate change means rising sea levels, greater risk of flooding and coastal erosion. We need to protect the natural ecosystems that help defend our coasts, and this legislation will help us do that,” said Miller. “At the same time, we want to ensure that any new coastal construction is built in locations safer from storm surges and sea level rise. This legislation will do that as well.”

    Noting that Nova Scotia’s coastline differs in every part of the province, John Somers with Nova Scotia Environment explained the legislation is designed for consistency, but is also flexible to local conditions.

    “Climate change and its effects are… unfolding in slow motion, and so it’s time to take concrete action and this is future-oriented legislation,” Somers told The Reporter. “It effects where people will build in the future and it’s a way of stopping making the problem worse than it has to be.”

    In a press release, 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.

    “This legislation is a crucial step toward protecting our coastal ecosystems by preventing future inappropriate coastal development,” said Nancy Anningson, coastal adaptation senior coordinator with the Ecology Action Centre. “Protecting our coastline will allow it to adapt and be resilient.”

    Last summer, the province received just over 1,300 responses to an on-line survey on coastal protection legislation. 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.

    “We heard from a lot of Nova Scotians,” Somers said. “We heard that people are generally supportive of the idea and recognize that we need to take concrete measures to adapt to climate change and sea level rise and the types of things that come with it like coastal erosion.”

    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 last week.

    The department said it will continue to work closely with municipalities and others to develop the regulations that will define how this legislation will work. Somers said the department will work with municipalities through their building permit process.

    “One of the groups we’ve consulted with most extensively were municipalities,” Somers noted. “While we’ll make province-wide, consistent rules for construction in coastal areas, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t adding any regulatory burdens.

    Last week, the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM) applauded the Government of Nova Scotia, and encouraged governments at all levels to work together now to prepare for the future.

    “Our members were given the opportunity to share concerns with provincial officials back in the summer,” NSFM president Waye Mason, said. “The majority of municipalities border the coastline and are already experiencing the effects of climate change with increased erosion, more frequent flooding and rising sea levels. A coordinated and collaborative approach is needed.”

    Currently, coast line activity is regulated by all three levels of government under multiple pieces of legislation. The NSFM said it hopes that this newest piece will align or replace existing rules and not create additional regulatory or financial burden for municipalities.

    “Government has assured us that they will continue to engage with municipalities on this issue and will consult with us on the regulatory framework,” said Mason.

    After first reading, the legislation will go to second reading, through the law amendments committee, then for third reading, but the timeline for final approval is unknown at this time.