Municipal staff will look at issues, liabilities associated with Gabarus structure
CBRM looking into issues with taking ownership of Gabarus Lighthouse.
Staff will look into the issues and liabilities that could be associated with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality taking ownership of the Gabarus lighthouse.
Members of the Gabarus Lightkeepers Society appeared at CBRM’s general committee meeting Tuesday to ask that the municipality take the lighthouse under the current divestiture program underway by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
In the request, society president Janet McGillen said it will require no initial investment by the CBRM and instead the society would take responsibility for upkeep, insurance and maintenance.
“DFO … has been mandated to divest itself of hundreds of Canada’s lighthouses,” McGillen said. “If it is not divested it will be torn down.”
McGillen described the memorandum of agreement presented to the society for the divestiture as “overwhelming and onerous” and the society declined to sign on the advice of its lawyer, despite a $40,000 payment offered by DFO.
“We were prepared to take responsibility for the saving and maintenance of the lighthouse but many of the conditions were contradictory and beyond reasonable expectation,” McGillen said. “We believe that CBRM has the experience and expertise to negotiate a more reasonable and acceptable ownership agreement for the lighthouse.”
She noted the landmark, which was built in 1890, attracts hundreds of visitors annually to the small coastal community that celebrated its 300th birthday last year.
The community group also believes Gabarus has potential as an eco-tourism destination and is in the process of developing a bus tour for cruise ship passengers.
McGillen called Gabarus a model of a community facing the challenges of coastal erosion, climate change, aging population and limited services.
In 2015, the 22-tonne lighthouse was moved 40 feet back from its precarious cliffside location to safer ground and it was later restored. The lighthouse had been sitting on land that’s been eroding into the ocean. It had captured second place in a contest held by the National Trust, winning $50,000.
The move came after three years of lobbying and fundraising.
Several members of council said they appreciate everything the community has done to maintain the lighthouse and the commitment they’re offering to cover the ongoing costs, but said they’re concerned about the implications of taking ownership down the road and the potential of setting a precedent.
Dist. 7 Coun. Ivan Doncaster, who represents the area, introduced a motion asking for a staff report on the issue which council passed.
“The conditions that weren’t acceptable to the group from DFO at the time, we have to look at those conditions and see what implications would be there,” Mayor Cecil Clarke told reporters after the meeting.
He suggested there may be other opportunities open to the CBRM such as entering into a lease arrangement with DFO for a dollar a year. He said the municipality isn’t in a position to assume any liability or financial expectation associated with the lighthouse.
“I want to take a hard look at all of the options that are there, to be as supportive as we can to this very engaged group of citizens in Gabarus,” Clarke said. “The village has been very supportive of redeveloping itself. It’s important, though, as council has reflected around the table, that we do take opportunity for full due diligence in the process.
“We actually have a policy of getting out of owning buildings.”
The Gabarus Lightkeepers Society has asked Cape Breton Regional Municipality council to take ownership of the village’s lighthouse from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Council has asked staff to prepare an issue paper looking at the issues associated with taking responsibility for the structure, which was built in 1890.