WEST MABOU: The co-chair of the Margaree Environmental Association says he doesn’t believe half of the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park should be allocated for a new 18-hole golf course.

Neal Livingston, who also owns a commercial maple syrup farm, is a documentary film maker and a renewable energy developer, suggested for about the past decade, their group has been dealing with a number of issues related to Cabot Cape Breton.

“When it seemed that other members of the public, in the Inverness area, were intimidated to speak up about issues related to Cabot’s activities at their golf courses in Inverness,” Livingston told The Reporter in an interview on Nov. 11. “And those issues specifically came up around not complying with the contractual obligation to build beach access, which is still outstanding in the contract they got free land from the Inverness Development Association.”

Livingston advised that, subsequently to that, their group noticed Cabot excavating a dune at Cabot Links when they were building it, and reported it to the government.

“The fact is that about one-third of the Cabot Links course is built on the protected beach lands of Inverness Beach,” Livingston said. “We think it’s the largest violation of the Protected Beaches Act in the history of Nova Scotia, and the government still hasn’t done anything about it.”

Livingston indicated that violating the Protected Beaches Act is a summary offence.

Through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) application, Livingston explained against the recommendations of the bureaucrats, Minister Lloyd Hines, at the time, gave them approval to build part of Cabot Cliffs on a protected area.

“There has been a history in the courses they built so far, to either build on protected lands, which they weren’t allowed to build on, or apply to the province for protected lands,” he said. “What you really see is a history, over the last decade, is what I call predation on public lands and protected areas and also non-compliance with contractual obligations to the public and also to the province.”

Livingston suggested, with the prior two courses involving protected lands, he’s not surprised they’re now looking at acquiring half of a provincial park for a potential third course.

“Their request is not only about them getting something at West Mabou, it’s absolutely precedent-setting for all parks in Nova Scotia,” Livingston said. “And that’s why you have more than 12,000 signing a petition.”

As of Nov. 14, the “Protect West Mabou Beach” petition has grown to 16,487 signatures at: https://www.change.org/p/protect-west-mabou-beach.

The petition explains the legally protected and ecologically sensitive area is part of the mere five per cent of Nova Scotian coastline that is protected public land, and future generations of Mabou residents can’t afford to lose it to private development.

“The triangle-shaped park is about 215 hectares and includes a two-kilometre sandy beach along one side, and home to sensitive ecosystems of a sand dune system and a salt marsh as well as an estuary and trail networks,” the petition reads. “In developing this land, the negative impact on the local biological systems will be far reaching and unprecedented in the region.”

Both the petition and Livingston believe there is plenty of private coastline that Cabot can purchase to build a golf course, and they should leave the ecologically crucial provincial parks alone.

“What we see their technique that worked for them in Inverness, which appears that they’re doing again is to create conflict in the community,” Livingston said. “The letter we wrote to the premier and the minister of natural resources was we’d like (them) to put an end to this right away. This is about Cabot using this technique where you create conflict in the community and then you do an end run straight to the politicians.”

He suggested when they see Rodney MacDonald, who is a former premier of the province, as Cabot’s front man, throwing a bit of money at some community groups, and highlighting the 500 jobs Cabot has, he figures at least 300 of those are caddies.

“The major thing that’s gone on with the caddies, and I think this is all across Canada, but we only know it through first-hand experience and talking to people here, is that at least 90 per cent of those caddies are not declaring their income,” Livingston said. “What Cabot’s done in the structure of how it runs its business is to create a huge underground economy and that’s extremely serious, especially when we’ve given them upwards of $20 to $30-million in assistance to get them off the ground.”

Livingston explained Cabot requires the caddies to sign an eight-page contract that declares themselves self-employed.

“Are they declaring their income? No, they’re absolutely not,” he stated. “I know a number of people who caddy at Inverness and they don’t declare their income.”

When asked if he’d be opposed to a golf course in the Mabou region outside of the provincial park, Livingston suggested Cabot has every right to purchase private land to do whatever they want.

“They can buy their own land to do what they want,” Livingston said. “Just keep their hands off of trying to predate on public land.”

In a written statement, the Ecology Action Centre stated protected areas should remain protected, and Cabot could choose from the remaining 86 per cent of the province’s privately owned coastline.

“End of story. And yet, an American billionaire golf course developer is once again trying to swindle away the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park to develop a private 18-hole golf course,” they said. “This legally protected and ecologically sensitive area is part of the mere five percent of Nova Scotian coastline that is protected public land. We cannot afford to lose it to private development.”

The group advised Nova Scotia has a goal of protecting 20 per cent of our lands and water by 2030 and allowing this development of already protected area will make reaching these targets impossible, and threatens the legitimacy and effectiveness of the land conservation sytem.

“Protected should mean protected. Protected for all Nova Scotians and their families now, and for generations to come,” the EAC said. “If the government can just give these special places away when private developers ask for them, then nothing is really protected.”

Livingston suggested if the provincial government were to give away this or any protected public lands to private developers, they would be breaking a crucial trust with the public.

“Cabot runs a fairy tale about themselves,” he added. “And that fairy tale is very different from the reality in the last 10 years.”

For more on the project, check out: https://porthawkesburyreporter.com/cabot-looking-to-add-to-local-portfolio-tees-up-west-mabou-beach-provincial-park/.

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Drake Lowthers has been a community journalist for The Reporter since July, 2018. His coverage of the suspicious death of Cassidy Bernard garnered him a 2018 Atlantic Journalism Award and a 2019 Better Newspaper Competition Award; while his extensive coverage of the Lionel Desmond Fatality Inquiry received a second place finish nationally in the 2020 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for Best Feature Series. A Nova Scotia native, who has called Antigonish home for the past decade, Lowthers has a strong passion in telling people’s stories in a creative, yet thought-provoking way. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2016, where he played varsity football with the Hurricanes. His simple pleasures in life include his two children, photography, live music and the local sports scene.