By Richard Bell
In the latest round in the fight to stop the province from turning Owls Head Provincial Park into an American billionaire’s three private golf courses and acres of luxury housing, the Department of Lands and Forestry (L&F) released another round of documents with dramatic new information.
L&F filed these documents in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in response to a request for a judicial review of L&F’s decision on March 19, 2019 which was taken in secret with no public consultation. The request was filed in January 2020 by former DNR biologist Bob Bancroft and the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association.
In a previous document release, L&F had blacked out the estimate of what the park was worth. In the new release, L&F revealed the assessed value of the 704 acres to be a mere $216,000, or only $306 per acre, far below the asking price of nearby parcels.
Barbara Markovits, co-chair of the Eastern Shore Forest Watch Association, said she was “astonished that the Department of Lands and Forestry had agreed to such a sweetheart deal. The price of the land was based on the land being designated as parkland, with no development allowed. Yet the Department intended to sell it specifically for development, once it was de-listed from the Parks Plan. How is that a fair deal for Nova Scotians?"
Jamie Simpson, the attorney for Bancroft and ESFWA, told the Cooperator that he thought the price was too low. “The appraiser set the price based on the land being undevelopable,” Simpson said in an interview. “The appraiser may not have been aware of the fact that the property was about to be sold.”
Grinding Up the Park
The latest documents make it clear that if the sale should go through, not only will the park disappear, but Owls Head might very well be literally ground into sand. In a July 22, 2018 Proposal for Exchange or Purchase of lands in Little Harbour, Lighthouse Links said KemperSports, a golf course management company, estimated the cost of building the first course would be $12.6 million.
Why was the cost so high? Lighthouse Links explained: “The above costs are much higher than the typical course because it would have to be built on ledge and sand is not easily available. The largest component consists of $5 million for earth moving/ledge removal and covering the area with sand, which must be trucked onto the site.”
But there might be a way to cut this high cost: “We believe that significant savings, not accounted for in KemperSports estimate, can be achieved by building a sand plant to convert the ledge that is removed during golf course construction to sand.” I.e., literally grinding the park as it now exists into biological, ecological, and geological oblivion.
Luxury Housing with Golf Courses
Media coverage since the December 19, 2019 revelation of the secret delisting of the park has focused on the creation of three golf courses. But the July 22, 2018 proposal shows that what Lighthouse Links is proposing is really a very large luxury housing development, with a few golf courses on the side: “A successful real estate development program is expected to be necessary to help offset the high cost of the golf course construction. We are currently evaluating whether the land used for the proposed third course would be better utilized for residential construction.”
Golf courses have been disappearing around Canada by the dozens since the economic crash in 2008. When a golf course fails, what often happens is that the owners just cover the defunct golf course with more luxury housing.
The next court hearing will take place on December 10. “This hearing is to review the evidence that L&F has put on the record,” Simpson said. “We think there is information missing from the record, both in terms of material that’s been redacted, and other material we think should be part of the record.” The actual judicial review is scheduled to take place on April 1, 2021.
Photo: Murphys Lake on the northern border of Owls Head Provincial Park