By Richard Bell
[This story has been updated since it was published in the print edition. See the update at the bottom of the story.]
The Department of Natural Resources has ended one of the Eastern Shore’s longer-running land-use disputes. In a press release on March 20, 2018, the Shore Active Transportation Association (SATA) announced that the Department of Natural Resources has granted a Letter of Authority (LOA) to SATA to develop the Gaetz Brook Connector trail as a non-motorized, active transportation greenway. The trail runs along the abandoned CN rail corridor from East Chezzetcook to the junction of Highways 7 and 107
In an interview, SATA Board Chair Patricia Richards welcomed the LOA. “We’re pleased and excited to move forward on this valuable asset for linking communities for active transportation,” Richards said.
The trail will be 5 meters wide, and will include bridge repairs and the repair of eroded and wet areas to create a dry, firm, and smooth travel surface. SATA has already completed work under a previous LOA to develop plans for preserving the three metal bridges. Richards said the next step would be to start working on detailed design work for the whole trail segment, which she hoped might be ready to review at SATA’s annual general meeting in June.
SATA’s announcement of the DNR LOA provoked plenty of pushback. City Councillor David Hendsbee was already on record in favour of allowing motorized vehicles on the trail, having commissioned a report on August 1, 2017 asking for a staff study “giving consideration to permitting motorized access on the proposed active transportation greenway.” Earlier in 2017, he formally introduced a petition signed by 68 abutting property owners requested motorized use.
In an interview, Hendsbee expressed his opposition to DRN’s decision. The department, he said, should be renamed “Disrespected Neighboring Residents.” He had hoped that DNR would at least allow a parallel trail for ATVs. “The rail corridor is at least 99 feet wide in most places,” Hendsbee said, “so there was room for a parallel trail, sharing only the bridges and the causeways.”
Chris Hughes is one of the abutters on Pearson Drive in Gaetz Brook. He was the principal organizer behind the abutters’ petition that Hendsbee presented to Council last year. Hughes was responsible for printing up the signs that appeared up and down Pearson Drive reading, “Let’s Share….We All Pay Taxes,” with a stylized stick figure of a person and an ATV.
“This whole thing sticks in my craw,” Hughes told the Cooperator. “My reaction is that it was not a fair process. SATA was supposed to approach all the landowners, and I never got any notification. We sent in a petition from 68 people living directly on the railway bed, and DNR just ignored us.”
Since SATA’s announcement of its LOA, opponents of the SATA plan have been flooding local Facebook pages with bitter allegations about the unfairness of DNR’s decision-making process, the inequity of paying taxes without ATV access to the trail, the invasion of privacy from trail users in the back yards of abutters, and the selfishness of people who refuse to “share” the trail. All of these complaints were part of the record in DNR’s decision-making process.
For additional information, consult the SATA website at http://www.shoreat.ca, or the SATA Facebook page.
[Update: The online opposition to DNR's decision is growing more visible on Facebook, thanks to the efforts of Jarrett Campbell. Campbell lives on Pearson Drive in a house he bought because "I'm an avid ATVer, and that trail gets me everywhere." He noted that he also walked the trail behind his house, as well as walking on other trails in the area like the Musquodoboit Harbour trail.
Campbell had attended a community meeting about the trail, where he spoke out in favour of allowing ATVs to use the trail. When he heard that DNR had awarded an LOA to SATA, he thought he would try an app on Facebook to see what kind of response he would get. Using this app, he posted on the Porters Lake Community Issues Facebook page several alternatives for people to consider, including a trail open to all users, a trail open to non-motorized users, or side-by-side trails for ATVers and non-motorized users. "I woke up the next morning, and I've never had so many notifications," Campbell said. "This was unreal. I never expected this kind of result. I really don't think DNR did due process in reaching this decision." Almost all of the responses to Campbell's postings have been in favour of opening the trail to all users.
"My next step will be to send an email to Kevin Murphy and show him all the support," Campbell said. "Murphy said he would support ATVs on the trail when he ran for office the first time, but now he supports SATA 100%."]