News / Halifax

Halifax council votes for Blue Mountain Birch Cove purchase, but details scarce

The mayor was tight-lipped about what exactly council approved after an in camera debate on the park proposed more than 10 years ago.

Susies Lake in the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lake wilderness area.

Contributed/Irwin Barrett

Susies Lake in the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lake wilderness area.

After a debate behind closed doors, Halifax regional council voted to enter into an agreement of purchase and sale related to the Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Park, but there are no details being made public.

Council voted 11-1 in favour of a motion to enter into an agreement of purchase and sale as per the terms and conditions of a secret report; to “undertake consultation” with the Nova Scotia government and the public; and to “direct staff to continue to implement the plan for future acquisitions of other lands within the Blue Mountain Birch-Cove Lakes Wilderness Park boundary.”

The debate on the motion was had in camera, and after the vote, Mayor Mike Savage had no details for reporters.

“There’s a reason things are in camera,” Savage said. “There’s a lot of sensitivities around it. We’re doing our very best to acquire and protect those lands, which are important, I think, for the citizens, but there’s a lot of complicating factors that make it difficult.”

Council voted last year to accept a staff recommendation not to allow development on the lands – the site of a park proposed more than 10 years ago behind Bayers Lake – and to start the process to buy the necessary land for the park from 15 landowners, including Annapolis Group, which owns 965 acres of it.

One of those “complicating factors” Savage mentioned is a lawsuit by Annapolis Group. The developer announced early this year that it was suing HRM for $119 million, citing discrimination and bad faith negotiating on the part of the municipality, which it argued had “effectively expropriated” the land.

On Tuesday, Savage wouldn’t say whether council’s vote constituted an actual purchase, nor whether that would mark the first purchase.

“There has to be a willing buyer and willing sellers, and in this case, there needs to be a number of willing sellers, so we have to work with what we have,” he said.

This past spring, Ecology Action Centre wilderness coordinator Raymond Plourde, who’s been advocating for the park for years, told Metro he’d like to see more of this process done in the public eye.

“I’m tired of all this in camera crap,” he said.

“We are the other party in these financial transactions, and we should know as much as possible.”

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