Chang­ing hands?

Mu­nic­i­pal staff will look at is­sues, li­a­bil­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with Gabarus struc­ture

Cape Breton Post - - Front Page - BY NANCY KING nk­ing@cb­post.com

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.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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