Richmond County council issues support for biosphere reserve
ARICHAT — Richmond County council has gone on record as supporting an initiative to designate the Bras d’Or Lake and the surrounding watershed a biosphere reserve.
At their regular monthly meeting Monday, councillors voted unanimously in support of the proposal, earning a round of applause from members of the association behind it who were in attendance.
“It’s been in our lap for two years,” Warden John Boudreau said. “ There were a lot of questions, councillors wanted to have the opportunity to have some major questions answered.”
The association is trying to achieve United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designation for the area.
Last year, the municipality asked the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve Association to withhold the application for at least six months. Council had earlier approved the proposal in principle, but later had concerns about how the designation may affect future development. In particular, they wondered about the impact on potential mineral exploration.
In the months since, the municipality made numerous calls to sort out those concerns, Boudreau said. They researched other areas designated as biosphere reserve and whether the designation would bring with it any legislative authority in determining what activity could take place in the area. They also contacted potential developers, who didn’t raise any objections.
“The answer to that was quite simple — anything that can be done either under municipal regulation or under the provincial Department of Environment, will be permitted to be done,” he said.
“ They were pretty conscientious about the whole thing,” association chair Teresa MacNeil said of Richmond County’s approach to studying the issue.
The next step comes Feb. 23 when the association’s board meets with the provincial cabinet ministers — for natural resources and environment and labour — who have some jurisdiction over the lands involved. It’s their endorsement that is required to move the proposal forward to UNESCO.
Inverness County has voted against supporting the idea, citing concerns with the size of the area involved and possible effects on local industry. MacNeil said with the exception of Inverness, they’ve won the support of all local governments in Cape Breton including First Nations.
The association has no plans to go back to Inverness County, although it would if invited, MacNeil said, as was the case with Richmond. The municipality also has a representative on the association’s board who will attend the meeting with the ministers. They’ve asked for the support of Inverness, but it’s not required to move the effort forward.
“The good question is, what will the province do if we don’t have all of the local governments (onboard),” MacNeil said.