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 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.
Paddlers enjoying the Blue Mountain–Birch Cove Lakes wilderness.