Nova Scotia

Province’s decision to scrap Coastal Protection Act leaves gaps in municipal planning

The Nova Scotia government’s decision to scrap the Coastal Protection Act has left some large gaps in municipal planning documents.

Most municipalities had expected the legislation approved by all parties in the legislature in 2019 to eventually be proclaimed into law, along with a series of regulations. Their planning strategies and land use bylaws reflect that.

Now they’re waiting for clarification about how and where people can build along the shoreline, and what the province’s decision to download responsibilities onto municipalities will mean in practice.

“The issue of enforceability around what was being formally proposed and what is currently being proposed is something that municipalities, and certainly our municipality, had red-flagged,” said Richmond County Warden Amanda Mombourquette.

“We certainly feel that if it’s a provincial regulation, it needs to be a provincial resource that is provided to conduct enforcement.”

The provincial government says other environmental laws and tools that weren’t in place in 2019 will achieve the same purpose as the shelved act. The province has issued a coastal development guide and a flooding hazard map.

The province also plans to supply municipalities with examples of text that could be used in land use bylaws to guide coastal development.

A provincial spokesperson said work on that will be done “over the next several months.”

‘The jury’s still out’

Coastal development is often a hot topic in Cape Breton, where municipalities have coastlines along the ocean and in the interior along the Bras d’Or Lake, said Mombourquette.

Some property owners were looking forward to clarity and consistency of rules around coastal development, but others were happy with the status quo, she said.

Richmond County Warden Amanda Mombourquette says council passed its new planning strategy and land use bylaw despite the province’s move to scrap the act. (Submitted by the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce)

Now that’s all up in the air for land owners, and it raises questions about the responsibility for — and cost of — enforcement for municipalities.

“The jury’s still out for us,” Mombourquette said. “We’ve got our Eastern District Planning Commission team looking at this a little more closely and it will certainly be a topic of conversation.”

Cape Breton Regional Municipality overhauled its municipal planning strategy and land use bylaw last year under a process called CBRM Forward.

The new documents made major changes to development guidelines and regulations, but deferred to the provincial Coastal Protection Act when it comes to development along the shoreline.

Spokesperson Christina Lamey said development does not grind to a halt without new legislation and regulations, because CBRM has a minimum setback for building on the coast.

“But it’s not the comprehensive strategy that was anticipated,” she said.

A woman with long brown hair wearing a cream coloured jacket sits in front of a sunny window.
CBRM spokesperson Christina Lamey says staff are considering whether to develop their own coastal regulations, but that would be a significant undertaking. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

CBRM planning staff are considering whether to develop their own coastal regulations or wait for further direction from the province, but Lamey said going it alone would be a challenge.

“It would be a significant undertaking to come up with a comprehensive coastal strategy that would only ultimately apply to CBRM,” she said.

While Halifax and CBRM have had planning strategies and land use bylaws for years, it was only recently that the province made them mandatory for rural municipalities.

Richmond County council approved its planning documents last month, the same day Environment Minister Tim Halman announced the province would not be proclaiming the Coastal Protection Act.

Decision to abandon Coastal Protection Act draws fire

Opposition parties and environmental groups alike criticized the Nova Scotia government on Monday after it announced that, five years after it passed with all-party support, it would not proclaim the Coastal Protection Act.

Mombourquette said council was left with little choice but to proceed with a new bylaw for land use, because it was unclear what the province intended by abandoning the legislation and regulations.

“We didn’t feel like we knew enough about what the new direction was going to be to completely change tack at that point,” she said.

Inverness and Victoria counties have created drafts of their plans, but they have not been finalized yet.

All anticipated the Coastal Protection Act would regulate building along a shoreline.

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