GLACIAL PROGRESS ON BLUE MOUN­TAIN BIRCH COVE PARK

A deal’s been made for the Pur­cell’s Cove Back­lands, but talks for the Blue Moun­tain–Birch Cove Lakes wilder­ness park re­main slug­gish.

The Coast - - FRONT PAGE - BY JA­COB BOON

The more time peo­ple spend in na­ture, the more they value it, says the Ecol­ogy Ac­tion Cen­tre’s Jeana MacLeod.

To that end, MacLeod and the EAC will be lead­ing the pub­lic into the Blue Moun­tain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilder­ness Area this week­end for sev­eral bio-blitz events. It’s a chance to get peo­ple think­ing about Hal­i­fax’s eco-di­ver­sity, and show off the un­touched back­coun­try that’s lo­cated just a short bus ride from the down­town core.

“It’s al­ready an im­pres­sive land­scape, both in the ac­tual pres­ence of be­ing there and also in the life it can sup­port,” says MacLeod. “It’s a re­ally valu­able piece of land.”

No one’s ques­tion­ing the land’s value, though. Only what it’s worth.

On that front, the re­cently ap­proved price tag for the Pur­cell’s Cove Back­lands could end up be­ing the key to Hal­i­fax’s slug­gish ne­go­ti­a­tions for Blue Moun­tain–Birch Cove Lakes.

Last week, HRM an­nounced a ten­ta­tive agree­ment to pur­chase 380 acres of wilder­ness from the Shaw Group for $6.6 mil­lion. The city will cover $4.1 mil­lion, with the re­main­der fundraised by the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy of Canada.

The sale es­tab­lishes an ap­pro­pri­ate value for wilder­ness park­land—a price both HRM is will­ing to pay, and the seller finds fair.

Mean­while, it’s been over a year since Re­gional Coun­cil voted to ac­quire lands sur- round­ing the provin­cially pro­tected Blue Moun­tain–Birch Cove Lakes Wilder­ness Area and turn them into a park. That com­mit­ment hasn’t changed, but af­ter 12 months there’s been no pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion, no land ac­qui­si­tion and seem­ingly lit­tle progress.

Ray­mond Plourde, wilder­ness co­or­di­na­tor with the EAC, says he’s con­cerned about HRM’s time­line.

“There doesn’t ap­pear to be any park plan­ning go­ing on, and there doesn’t ap­pear to be any com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the pub­lic or stake­hold­ers,” he says.

Mu­nic­i­pal spokesper­son Bren­dan El­liott dis­putes that. Be­hind closed doors, Hal­i­fax is “ac­tively com­mu­ni­cat­ing” with six of the 15 pri­vate landown­ers in the area.

“The dis­cus­sions are slow, but I wouldn’t char­ac­ter­ize them as stalled,” says El­liott.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is a $119-mil­lion law­suit from An­napo­lis. The de­vel­op­ment firm, which owns 965 acres abut­ting the wilder­ness re­serve, al­leges coun­cil abused its author­ity last year and “ef­fec­tively ex­pro­pri­ated” the com­pany’s lands by deny­ing a zon­ing change.

An­napo­lis pre­vi­ously tried sell­ing 210 acres of that prop­erty to HRM for $6 mil­lion. City as­ses­sors pegged the same land at $2.8 mil­lion. The price was so high that staff con­cluded it “does not re­flect a will­ing seller.” Un­der the new Pur­cell’s Cove val­u­a­tion, An­napo­lis’ 210 acres should be worth $3.6 mil­lion.

And if no­body’s will­ing to sell, well, there are other op­tions. For­get “ef­fec­tive” ex­pro­pri­a­tion, says Plourde—let’s try the real thing.

“Sooner or later, we’re go­ing to need to con­tem­plate that.”

The EAC’s Hal­iBlitz hikes into Blue Moun­tain on Fri­day, Septem­ber 15 at 225 Chain Lake Drive and Sun­day, Septem­ber 17 at the Maskwa Aquatic Club. More in­for­ma­tion is on the Ecol­ogy Ac­tion Cen­tre’s web­site.

TRISTAN GLEN

Pad­dlers en­joy­ing the Blue Moun­tain–Birch Cove Lakes wilder­ness.

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