The Fox Lake Viewpoint in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. — Contributed/Irwin Barrett
The Fox Lake Viewpoint in the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes wilderness area. — Contributed/Irwin Barrett

Halifax councillors want to create a new committee to guide and monitor the creation of a park at Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes.

Council voted unanimously in favour of an amended motion to that effect from Coun. Richard Zurawski at its meeting on Tuesday. It’s the fourth month in a row in which council has debated a motion related to the wilderness area located between Hammonds Plains and Bayers Lake.

Last month, council voted for a staff report to clarify the boundaries of the long-promised park in Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes. In July, it voted to spend $700,000 to help the Nova Scotia Nature Trust buy a piece of land in the wilderness, against staff’s recommendation. And in June, it voted for a report calling on staff to finally create a plan for the park.

Zurawski brought the following motion to Tuesday’s meeting:

That Halifax Regional Council request that a senior level coordinating committee, led by HRM staff, be established for the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Regional Wilderness Park. The purpose of this HRM, staff-led senior level coordinating committee, will be created to ensure 

  1. That land use, development decisions, and approvals involving adjacent and surrounding lands of the core wilderness area are compatible with the ecological mandates of the park, as outlined by the best ecological research, and do not adversely affect the viability and integrity of the future park.
  2. The coordinating committee will be HRM staff led and comprised of advisors from the public, and NGOs such as, but not limited to the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) and Friends of BMBC Lakes.
  3. Provide progress reports to HRM Regional Council once every six months, which will be made available to the public
  4. Provide a monitoring plan, whose purpose is to protect the ecological integrity of the proposed park with an emphasis on ensuring public use compatible with the purposes of the future park. 

“The purpose of this motion is to create a committee whose sole responsibility is to look at the formation of this one of a kind park, and to head off at the pass all of the controversy and some of the misinformation from many, many sources that has been the bane of this potential park’s existence,” Zurawski told his colleagues.

“This is basically a plan to monitor where we’re going and report back to council, and actually give staff a bit of a break. It’s there to help staff in terms of the consultation process so that we can get the information in a timely way and not let it skid off the rails because we’ve got our hands full with all kinds of things.”

Coun. Shawn Cleary said he feels the provincial government should be involved, given the province owns and protected so much of the land.

He also suggested a friendly amendment, accepted by Zurawski, to have the committee report to council annually, instead of every six months.

Coun. Waye Mason noted that council’s rules require a staff report before moving forward with this kind of committee.

“And I think it’s appropriate because I have questions that staff can’t answer about how this would work,” he said.

Zurawski agreed to that amendment as well, and the motion for a staff report passed unanimously.

Though she didn’t move an amendment, Coun. Lorelei Nicoll raised concerns about the motion specifying who would be on the committee.

“We want the right people on there, but I just find when you’re asking for certain members, it could be viewed as favouritism, in that respect,” Nicoll said.

Zurawski said he deliberately added the words, “but not limited to,” along with providing the examples of the Ecology Action Centre and Friends of BMBC Lakes. He said he’d like to see the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust on the committee, too.

“I hope that provides some assurance of the breadth of consultation, not being prejudicial,” Zurawski said.

There was no timeline attached to the motion.

Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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