Pro­tect­ing these coast­lines

In June the Prov­ince told us leg­is­la­tion is pend­ing


Cli­mate change is cre­at­ing a sea of un­cer­tainty. The sea level is ex­pected to be three-quar­ters of a me­tre to more than a me­tre higher by 2100 than it was a cen­tury ear­lier. “Large ice shelves are break­ing up in Antarc­tica,” said Boris Worm, a marine ecol­o­gist at Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity in Hal­i­fax. “That could have a ma­jor im­pact. That is the rea­son the re­cent pro­jec­tions have been cor­rected to in­clude a much larger range of pos­si­ble sea level rise.”

Worm said the Na­tional Oceanic At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion of the United States ear­lier this year pro­jected an ex­treme sea level rise by the turn of the cen­tury of 2.5 me­tres higher than the year 2000.

With un­cer­tainty ris­ing, the prov­ince’s En­vi­ron­ment De­part­ment an­nounced in late June that it will in­tro­duce coastal pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion to help mit­i­gate the ef­fects of ris­ing sea level and cli­mate change.

“What we found was hap­pen­ing over a year ago is that there was a mis­match of ac­tions that were be­ing taken in dif­fer­ent mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties,” En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Mar­garet Miller said upon her re­cent re­turn to the de­part­ment. “Ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity had a dif­fer­ent way of han­dling their coast­lines and where peo­ple were al­lowed to build, where they weren’t and what could go where. What this leg­is­la­tion is go­ing to do is ideally set up a provin­cial sys­tem that will have all these things in place.”

She said the leg­is­la­tion will be pri­mar­ily di­rected at po­ten­tial home­own­ers, “to make sure that although a bluff one foot above the coast is beau­ti­ful and the the­ory works well, it does not work so well when a storm hits or when we are deal­ing with ris­ing sea lev­els. Peo­ple have to think ahead.”

Nancy An­ning­son, coastal adap­tion co-or­di­na­tor with the Ecol­ogy Ac­tion Cen­tre, said the leg­is­la­tion is all about al­low­ing the coast to de­fend it­self.

“What we’re try­ing to do is pro­tect a very del­i­cate zone,” said An­ning­son, who took on her EAC role in May.

“The act is go­ing to de­fine that zone. We’re try­ing to fig­ure out what that is. The coast­line is quite dif­fer­ent as you travel around the prov­ince. In some places, it’s sandy and dunes, some places there are salt wa­ter marshes, rocky coasts, steep coast­lines that are erod­ing.”

An­ning­son said the prov­ince will then pro­tect that zone from be­ing de­vel­oped through a va­ri­ety of means, in­clud­ing reg­u­la­tions that set de­vel­op­ments back from the wa­ter’s edge.

“The real crux is try­ing to ac­tu­ally let the coast do what the coast is sup­posed to do. Coasts are ex­tremely fluid. They have ways of adapt­ing. Sed­i­ment moves around and the veg­e­ta­tion on the shore holds things in place. There are go­ing to be changes, par­tic­u­larly now that we know the sea level is ris­ing as dra­mat­i­cally as it is. If we stay out of the way and we don’t build these gi­ant sea walls that cause mas­sive ero­sion on ei­ther side of them, if we don’t try to stop the coast from do­ing what it needs to do to adapt, we will be able to with­stand what’s hap­pen­ing longer.”

The EAC is of­fer­ing in­put and guid­ance in de­vel­op­ing the leg­is­la­tion. The con­sul­ta­tion phase with the pub­lic and in­ter­ested groups ended Aug. 17.

Iain Rankin, the for­mer En­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter, did not of­fer a time­line for the leg­is­la­tion to be drafted.

“Prop­er­ties along the coast – our coastal wet­lands, salt marshes, dunes – pro­vide an im­por­tant func­tion,” Rankin said, adding that the nat­u­ral dy­namic has to be pro­tected.

Rankin said the act will fill in the gaps left from ex­ist­ing coast-re­lated leg­is­la­tion.

He said the leg­is­la­tion will de­ter­mine a spe­cific buf­fer zone from the coast, where no con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity will be per­mit­ted.

“We’d have to look at the stud­ies from the ex­perts to de­fine what the ap­pro­pri­ate dis­tance is,” said Rankin, now the min­is­ter of Lands and Forestry.

He said the act will not force changes to de­vel­op­ment that al­ready ex­ists.

“This act is about the fu­ture,” Rankin said. “There is a cer­tain amount of ac­tiv­ity that we can’t go back in time and ad­dress. This is about mak­ing sure that Nova Sco­tians know we are go­ing down this road to pro­tect them so that they are build­ing in safer ar­eas and ac­tiv­ity is hap­pen­ing in a more ap­pro­pri­ate place.”


Then-nova Sco­tia en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Iain Rankin an­nounced in late June the govern­ment’s in­ten­tion to in­tro­duce coastal pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion.

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