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

Councillors want a bigger park boundary for Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, but like novice hikers trying to make their way into the back country, they had a hard time finding a path to getting it done.

Coun. Richard Zurawski brought a motion to Tuesday’s meeting hoping to clear up some confusion about what the city means when it talks about the long-promised park for Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes — the wilderness area located between Bayers Lake and Hammonds Plains, some of which is provincially protected.

Zurawski’s motion stemmed from last month’s council last debate on the park, when it decided to forge ahead despite a staff recommendation and help the Nova Scotia Nature Trust buy a piece of land that municipal staff believe to be outside the approved park boundary.

At the end of that meeting, Zurawski gave notice that he would bring the following motion to council’s next meeting:

That Halifax Regional Council move a motion that, for clarity for staff and certainty for the public, Council makes clear that the full working outline as represented on Map 11, including the western lands to Cox Lake represents Council’s ideal or aspirational vision for the future Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lake park, and not the outdated, truncated and obsolete park outline derived from the 2006 environmental assessment for highway 113. And that this clarification be represented on the www.halifax.ca web site and reflected in the upcoming staff report on park planning.

Here’s Map 11:

Map 11 from Halifax’s 2014 regional plan.
Map 11 from Halifax’s 2014 regional plan.

The title of the map, which is part of the city’s regional plan, indicates you’re looking at the “Conceptual Park Area.” But the legend begs to differ. The darker brown area to the right is marked “Park Boundary (Concept),” while the lighter brown area to the left is marked “Core Wilderness (Back Country).”

Zurawski, and advocates from groups like the Ecology Action Centre and Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes, argue that the whole map is the park boundary. Municipal staff argue it’s just the smaller area, marked “Park Boundary (Concept),” hence the recommendation against purchasing the land with the nature trust, which is near the centre of that map.

Staff have also posted a map showing the smaller boundary on the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove section of the city’s website:

A map showing the smaller boundary, highlighting the city’s recent land purchases.
A map showing the smaller boundary, highlighting the city’s recent land purchases.

Zurawski said he just wanted the city to post the right map, Map 11, on the website.

“When we deviate from that, we miscommunicate. And when we miscommunicate, then we spend all our time getting tangled up in our own underwear,” he said.

But legal director John Traves told Zurawski his motion was out of order. Because the regional plan follows the staff interpretation of Map 11, Traves said Zurawski’s motion attempts to amend a planning document without going through the arduous process required for doing so, including a public hearing.

“I am seeking guidance to make this motion work so that we don’t mislead the public,” Zurawski said. “I would like to see Map 11 on our website so that everyone who looks at that can understand what we’re aspiring to.”

Coun. Sam Austin, who agreed the maps were causing confusion, helped Zurawski craft a more amenable motion. That motion requested a staff report on including the entire backcountry identified in Map 11 in the park planning process, considering revising Map 11 for Blue Mountain Birch Cove park in the regional plan review, and directing staff to provide a more fulsome history and timeline of the park, including a conceptual park map on the municipal website.

That motion passed.

Council already passed a motion in June for a staff report outlining a plan to create the park. This new motion will likely be rolled into that report.

Ensuring a fourth month of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes council debate in a row, Zurawski gave notice at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, to be held on Sep. 1, for another motion:

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 that:

  1. 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 public NGOs such as, but not limited to, the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), the Friends of Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes;
  3. Provide progress reports to HRM regional council once every six months, which will be made available to the public; and
  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.

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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  1. Hats off to Mayor Savage, Councillors Zurawski and Austin and all members of HRM Council for their strong, unanimous support the biggest and best possible park. Now let’s roll up our sleaves and get ‘er done!