BIG POND CENTRE, N.S. — Roy MacInnis’ roots run deep into the soil of his Big Pond Centre farm.
He’s proud of the rural community’s rich history and appreciative of the tranquil nature of the area that is situated on the south side of Bras d’Or Lake, about 40 km west of Sydney.
MacInnis resides in the family homestead that stands tall and strong, a testament to the quality workmanship of 130 years ago, that is not much further than a stone’s throw from the adjoining property to the west.
That tract of land has been weighing heavily on his mind. A year ago, he and his neighbours learned that a Calgary developer wanted to establish an RV park and campground on four parcels of land totalling 102 acres. The proposed site runs adjacent to MacInnis’ property and extends to the barachois called Lochmore Harbour that is mostly closed off from the lake.
- RV park proposed for Big Pond
- RV park decision for Big Pond Centre appealed
- Council chamber packed for public hearing on possible Big Pond Centre development
On Monday, the MacInnis property was the first place visited by a Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board tribunal that is hearing an appeal of a Cape Breton Regional Municipality decision in March of this year to amend a municipal land-use bylaw to allow for the possible development of the undertaking.
But prior to their mid-afternoon arrival, the soft-spoken organic farmer talked about his relationship to the land.
“This is the country — it’s quiet and peaceful, always has been,” said MacInnis, as his gaze shifts to the west to the old Sampson property that may someday be home to a development that could include 211 of the originally proposed 541 serviced RV sites.
“There’s a house over there beyond those trees that is almost 250 years old – there’s lots of history here, at one time they used horses to haul wood down from the woods up on that hill, so it could be used at the old Mercer sawmill.”
Soon thereafter, the three UARB members (chair Roland Deveau, David Almon and Roberta Clarke) arrived for the site inspection and MacInnis led them across Highway 4 to a field that runs down to the lake. Also present were developer Chris Skidmore and Jim MacDonald, an area resident and former lawyer who is representing the group of seven, which includes MacInnis, that officially appealed the CBRM vote (7-6) that allowed the project proponents to move on to the next step of the process.
After checking out the MacInnis land, the UARB panel went on to take a look at the proposed site, the nearby cemetery, the barachois, and several nearby private properties, including that of Mike Britten, an environmental engineer who is also opposed to the project.
Britten, who often acts as the appellant group’s spokesperson, expressed further concerns about the environmental impacts that such a development might have on the Bras d’Or Lake, a body of what that he pointed out is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve.
“In this case, with an RV park and a campground, there is no requirement for an environmental assessment no matter where it is put in the province,” he said.
“The only trigger is if there are two or more hectares of wetland that are going to be altered or destroyed, but the wetland delineation hasn’t been done yet, so we don’t know what that’s going to entail in terms of protection for the pond or what the proponent is going to have to do in terms of mitigation measures.”
Skidmore has already initiated the process of involving Nova Scotia Environment as he has applied for approval to construct a water treatment plant on the site.
Meanwhile, the URAB hearing is scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday when the board will continue to question CBRM planner Karen Neville. Municipal planning director Malcolm Gillis and Skidmore are also on the witness list, but it is unclear whether they will be called to testify.
Summer 2014 – Calgary-based developer Chris Skidmore envisions RV campground on shores of Bras d’Or Lake while visiting Cape Breton
September 2017 – Following a feasibility study, conceptual plans are drawn up; 150 info flyers delivered in Big Pond Centre area; Skidmore holds information meeting at fire hall
November 2017 – Skidmore makes land-use zoning amendment application; CBRM council is briefed on the matter; public meeting opposing project attracts 70 people
February 2018 – Public hearing into application attracts full house to CBRM council chamber
March 2018 – Council votes 7-6 to approve amendment; opponents vow to appeal decision
July 2018 – NS Utility and Review Board (UARB) begins hearing with three-day session in Sydney
August 2018 – Developer begins process to get provincial approval for waste water treatment plant; opponents demand a full environmental assessment on project
Monday – UARB tribunal members visit proposed site and surrounding area
Tuesday – UARB hearing to resume and conclude in Sydney
Future – UARB to rule on appeal